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4.3 Smell (Moesgård Archaeological Trail, Denmark)

'Smell, this most liminal of senses, carries a great subversive potential in its ability to violate boundaries, assault rationality, and evoke powerful emotions of disgust and attraction.' (Fjellestad 2001, 650).

As has been demonstrated, the technology for creating digital visual imagery and sound via a mobile device is well advanced and relatively easy to implement. However, the embodied GIS should not be limited simply to those senses that are convenient. The everyday for people in the past was not just experienced through what they could see or hear, and smell clearly played a vital part in the sensorium of the past (see the papers in Bradley 2014).

Smell has been used previously in a number of museum settings to engage visitors with a reconstructed past sensorium: the smell of the Tyrannosaurus Rex in London's Natural History Museum (BBC 2001); the Jorvik Centre in York (Walsh 1990); and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (Ucar 2015). These explorations of smell are almost exclusively confined to presenting smells to the museum visitor for consumption, usually as a novelty. For example, at the Jorvik Centre the visitors are moved through the re-creation of a Viking town via a 'Time Car' on fixed rails (Sunderland 2014); they are moving through the smellscape that changes depending on how far along the ride they are. Without doubt the multi-sensory experience of Jorvik affects the way visitors think about the exhibits and Aggleton and Waskett (1999) have demonstrated that a visitor's recall of the exhibit is better if they are exposed to similar smells at a later time, but due to the 'theme-park' style Time Cars there is little chance to independently explore the multi-sensory atmosphere.

The olfactory challenge for the archaeological embodied GIS is to enable these smells to be experienced in situ while investigating an archaeological site. The smells should be an integrated part of the GIS database; for instance, when dealing with Bronze Age roundhouses as in the vision section above, the smells as well as the appearance of these roundhouses should be experienced when using an embodied GIS. To enact this, the olfaction triggers are simply linked to the GIS data in the same way as the size, shape and orientation of the 3D model for the roundhouse is or the audio files for the burials in York Cemetery.

To demonstrate how this is achieved, I will discuss my use of the Dead Man's Nose (DMN) project at Moesgård Museum's archaeological trail. The archaeological trail at Moesgård consists of a number of different sites at which there are a combination of reconstructions, excavated archaeological remains and standing buildings. These sites range in antiquity from the Neolithic to the medieval period. The work was initially undertaken as part of my PhD research, but was extended during the 2015 York University Heritage Jam. A video explaining the mechanics of the device and also demonstrating it in action at Moesgård Museum is shown below.

As the video shows, the Dead Man's Nose consists of an Arduino board, battery, a BluetoothLE chip, and four small fans contained within small boxes. The boxes contain small drawers in which a scent can be placed on a small piece of cotton wool, which is then dispersed when the fans blow. The fan boxes also have small pieces of velcro on the back, allowing them to be attached either to clothing or to a board that can be worn around the neck (as seen in the video). The device communicates with a mobile phone using BluetoothLE that reads the user's GPS position and (as with the sound example above) emits a smell, by turning on one or more fans, when the user is within a specified radius of an archaeological feature.

The smells used are manufactured by Dale Air (Dale Air 2013), who offer a range of over 100 different smells, ranging from the simple smell of a rose to the more complex smell of decaying flesh in a cannibal's cave. The selection of the correct scent for each of the areas of interest is clearly limited by what is available, but the DMN has four different fans allowing a combination of smells to be emitted at any one time – enabling the creation of complex smellscapes. As with the aural example from York Cemetery, the user is able to move around the archaeological site and experience either sustained smells or shorter 'whiffs' of a smell depending on the size of the smell radius as recorded in the GIS.

No formal testing has been undertaken so far with the DMN but, as can be seen from the user experience in the video, it has the ability to evoke different emotions to a place – some of which are almost certainly at odds with the way that the site(s) are presented today. Smell plays a powerful role in memory recall and can also have a direct impact on our current mood and interpretation of our surroundings. Therefore, by recreating past smells and experiencing them in situ, we are challenging our perceptions and considering the place in a new way both spatially, that is how the smells change as we move through the site, and temporally, that is how differently the place may have smelt in the past (Eve forthcoming). The embodied GIS is provoking us to think differently about a place, which may in turn allow new or different interpretations of the archaeology to be formed. Would specific buildings be placed in certain positions to minimise the smell of the animal pens? If animals are kept in a certain place, would those noises be heard at all times? If people were working in this area, what sounds would be produced and how would that permeate across the settlement? What relation do these sounds have to the ritual areas, etc.? If this roundhouse's view of the 'holy mountain' was obscured, what would it mean for the inhabitant of that house?


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