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3. Embodied GIS

While some of the previous applications of AR in archaeology have been landscape-based, they have focused on the tourism, storytelling and reconstruction aspects of using AR in archaeology. No application has yet been produced that uses AR to expand our archaeological knowledge or use it as a tool for the investigation and exploration of ideas and the production of new interpretations of landscapes. Previous AR applications have been used solely for the presentation or explanation of existing ideas, creating an essentially passive experience. I argue that AR has greater potential than this and can be used in an active way as a means of investigation and to find out new things about the past, rather than just to consume existing knowledge. To address this, I present a manifesto for the use of AR in archaeology, one that calls for a closer relationship between analysis and experience and harnesses the in situ nature of AR to the exploratory power of GIS analysis (Eve 2012; 2014).

Peter Zwart (1993) coined the term 'embodied GIS' but his vision was that GIS would be embedded in all software and hardware, and unnoticeable to the user. My vision for an embodied GIS is centred round the acceptance that GIS technology is simply a method to enable our evidence to be recorded and explored spatially. This 'space' is normally represented only within a computer environment and viewing it is limited to a screen, usually in an office. I contend that we need to move away from the office and use the GIS technology to give archaeological objects and concepts a place in physical space. We need to be able to explore and use the GIS data within the space that is being modelled. As Ingold states, 'to construct a narrative, one must already dwell in the world and, in the dwelling, enter into relationships with its constituents, both human and non-human' (Ingold 2000, 76). This is not an eschewing of GIS; instead it is the enablement of GIS technology to be explored in the way that it always should have been, naturally and in situ.

My concept of an embodied GIS, then, is simply this – the combination of traditional GIS technology and Augmented Reality technology – allowing the experience of the GIS data within the field and the ability to feed directly from the field into the GIS. All of the data held within the GIS should be readily accessible when actually visiting the archaeological site. This does not mean taking a laptop out into the field and sitting down with the GIS data, or even using a tablet version of the GIS software. Instead, the data need to be able to be sensualised as if they were directly there in the landscape – overlaid on the hills, plains and rivers themselves, reacting, developing and changing as one moves through the space. One should be able to walk around the data, through the data and query and update the data. It is a step beyond the blinking red location dot of Google Maps or the entirely virtual world of VR – out of the abstraction of the flat plane digital map or the entirely falsely rendered 3D world, and into the real world. With the limited addition to the landscape of data from the GIS, the landscape itself is being used as a canvas (Eve 2012). The introduction of the virtual elements should be kept to a minimum and, in contrast, the landscape itself should provide the bulk of the experience – the way in which steep slopes tire you; the shelter gained from standing in the lee of a hill; the smells of the flowers; the sound of the birdsong; and the views and perspectives that open and close as you explore the landscape. Elements such as these are vital to the way humans experience space and what it means to them, and are vital to the experience of that specific landscape: but which are extremely challenging to re-create within traditional GIS.

The embodied GIS also encourages, perhaps even demands, the inclusion of other senses within the GIS dataset. For too long the use of GIS in archaeology has been only about vision (see Lake and Woodman 2003), and the AR interface offers the opportunity to use the other senses when exploring the landscape: the smells and sounds of animals in the landscape, the smells and sounds of the landscape itself, water, wind, trees and so on, the everyday things that would be experienced by everyone as they went about their lives. Care must always be taken to remember that we will be using our modern perceptions of these things, but by enabling and demanding the inclusion of these other and cross-modal senses, GIS users are encouraged to take account of the need for these extra data and to further integrate them into their GIS analyses (see Rennell 2009, chapter 9). Without the addition of the other senses – or at least a move toward their integration – the AR experience will seem flat and lifeless, a pertinent reminder for traditional GIS users about the brevity and limitations of their hamstrung datasets (Eve 2014).

Figure 2
Figure 2: The Embodied GIS Workflow

The embodied GIS should also always be part of a feedback loop (Figure 2), not merely another way of seeing the GIS data. In order to be an effective tool, the embodied GIS user should be able to make changes to the data from either the embodied interface or by using the more traditional GIS interface. Both need to interact with and use the same underlying data structure and datasets. A change made using the GIS interface should be directly updated and experienced within the embodied interface and vice versa. That way the strengths of both interfaces work together to refine and improve the underlying dataset. The embodied user should also be able to add or delete objects from the dataset. The embodied GIS, therefore, is another way into the GIS dataset and a different 'view' on the same data – one that is enriched and informed by the landscape under study itself, that raises questions and challenges the underlying data in the GIS model, and which allows the user to further refine that model and to experience it in situ.


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