Geophysics is just one of the many tools that archaeologists have at their disposal to enlighten our knowledge of the world. Part of the wider frame of remote sensing, it is a way of seeing what is often invisible to the naked eye. Geophysics as a word shouts 'science' and 'objectivity'. Its language is one of data and algorithms. But it is also a poetry of the land and sea. It speaks of noise and quiet, emerging features and stories from the shadows of the past. The images produced from geophysical surveys of archaeological sites have their own particular aesthetic, one that is understood by those who study them closely. This way of seeing grows through the process of working with these data and images; an artistic practice echoed in the worlds of painting, drawing, photography and print. It is these practices that give us another way of imagining, other ways of understanding ourselves in the world.
This article explores how geophysics is a rich ground for the archaeological imagination, allowing us to see under the surface of the land and ourselves. The inspiration for it has grown over years of standing in fields moving strings, and walking up and down in neat traverses, processing grid after grid and tracing the ghosting forms of the past across the map. It has also grown out of conversations, both informal and at workshops and conferences, driven in part perhaps by a dissatisfaction with the habit of archaeologists to churn over old ground regarding the sad loss of 'creative' analogue versus the takeover of the machine-led objectivity of digital. This article focuses on geophysics which, in contrast to aerial photography or artefact collections for example, is a form of archaeology not often discussed in terms of its artistic qualities. This exploration of the visual practice of geophysics not only highlights this area of archaeology as a rich site for discussion, but argues that archaeology is an artistic practice as much as it is a scientific one. As such, the real excitement is not around analogue vs digital, but rather in finding ways of seeing the full creative potential of archaeology, and finding new ways of seeing and storying the past.
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