Our website is the interface across which people can engage to varying degrees. While our website architecture structures what users can achieve, we argue that even at the 'lowest' level of engagement (the casual visitor) the process of looking and navigating the website is an active form of digital engagement (cf. Moshenska 2009a). As part of a series of scales of engagement, the process of viewing, the digital gaze, is one means for public access and accountability in archaeology.
Looking critically – gazing – at things or people can denote or articulate power relations, and can link to wider discussions about how archaeological material is presented, represented and understood. Gazing is not a neutral undertaking. The importance of the unequal gaze as a means of providing control and regulation was represented by Foucault (1977) as critical to the ultimate development of Western 19th-century punishment. Looking critically at archaeological material culture – on sites, in museums, or digitally – is one means of entering into a relationship with these things. Expectations that public archaeological projects need to be fully immersive perhaps speaks more of the nature of archaeologists than the requirements of many members of the public. The mitigation by specific power relationships of seeing, of looking, and of engaging does not make the processes of looking any less active. Feminist readings of 'normative' – male, white, heterosexual, Western – representations of viewing (e.g. Mulvey 1975) emphasise the subjectiveness of the gaze. We contend that especially as '…computers [allow] active manipulation versus passive observation…' (Carusi et al. 2014, 3) and in the case of this project, in the manipulation of 3D simulacra in a digital workspace, the process of critically looking – of digitally gazing – moves the engagement beyond 'simply' a passive, non-communicative, didactic digital viewing platform (cf. Moshenska 2009a, 50). These are virtual windows, but with dynamic interfaces (Carusi et al. 2011, 9), with malleable 3D models in digital space. Though the website structures engagement with the material – the nature of access still 'disciplines' the material (Foucault 1977) – this does not necessarily mean that the encounter is passive.
The digital context of the presentation and representation of our models has specific implications for this form of engagement. The notion of the 'Romantic gaze' has long been recognised as important in the consumption of archaeological material culture and the representation of archaeology, so that traditional archaeological media – finds, sites, the written and drawn records – are seen to contain '…an emotive power…that personal connection [to] the authentic, the historical reality…' (Piccini 1999, 196).
In the digital representation of archaeological sites or material culture, the process of seeing occurs through media that become symbiotic with the archaeological content (cf. McLuhan 1967). Both in the nature of the engagement – the extended archaeological place in virtual 3D space – and in the co-produced and composite data sources for these models, these representations are digital hybrids of collective undertakings (Carusi et al. 2011, 9). The products of this research are accurate scaled 3D facsimiles of the sites in their contemporary conditions, with a precision of millimetres. Experiencing these models emphasises the '…cognitive import of visualisation…their transformative and performative roles in vision and knowledge' (Carusi et al. 2014, 3). There is a shift both in the nature and experience of these archaeological objects, as the reality of these sites change in their digital forms. Rather than simple representations, the digital models become 'part representations' of these places that are completed by the active human engagement through the website (Carusi et al. 2011, 10). While the nature of these models continues to be imbued with some aspects of 'authenticity', so too do they gain additional qualities as digital archaeological artefacts (cf. Morgan 2012). The aesthetics of these models are quite specific; they have a kind of 'photo reality', which includes all the inherent mitigation of photographs as visual media (Sontag 1978; Barthes 1980), but they also include specific historical context resulting from the ground conditions when the data were generated. Because these models are composite, so they bring with them inherent multi-temporality which is compressed into a single representation. The presentation of the 'finished' model on the website creates the lasting 'authentic' digital version of the site, and one that will not be changed. As the models are experienced through the Internet, or as digital files remotely from the site, so concurrently space is stretched and a degree of time depth collapsed.
Recent reviews have highlighted in considerable detail the contributions and challenges that digital media can offer to archaeologists (Richardson 2009; Bonacchi 2012). We contend that the digital aspect of our project facilitates a range of scales of engagement (as opposed to one single scale of engagement) that are available to members of the public (Figure 3). This moves from the digital gaze, through to forum members contributing comments, and digital public archaeologists who contribute data. We further contend that all aspects of these engagements are active, and that members of the public should be entitled – if they wish – to turn their digital gaze on us; digital media increasingly provide a means of archaeological accountability by demonstrating how publicly funded research projects are undertaken.