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3. Digital Creativity and Digital Reconstruction

3.1 Digital reconstruction: potential and problems

The relationship between archaeological drawings as scientific, objective records created to document the condition of heritage sites before and after conservation, and the use of reconstruction drawings to present a more interpretative and persuasive vision of the past has long been the subject of discussion in archaeology (Moser 2014; Moser and Smiles 2005; Myrone 2007; Smiles 2007). The imagination and skill not just in presenting what is known, but also as a means of presenting hypothesis, or glossing over uncertainty, has been recognised as a distinctive skill of archaeological artists such as Peter Connelly (James 2015) and Alan Sorrell (Perry and Johnston 2014).

The advent of digital technologies heralded a new era in 'virtual archaeology' (Hookk 2014; Reilly 1991 and see also Bailey and Gardiner 2010; Barceló 2000; Evans and Daly 2006; Goodrick and Earl 2003; Lock 2003). However, the influence of such digitally creative possibilities has also prompted extensive debate about the power of visually compelling, photorealistic reconstructions to close down alternative interpretative possibilities of the data (Eiteljorg 2000; Frischer and Dakouri-Hild 2008; Frischer et al. 2002; Goodrick and Gillings 2000). The use of such technologies also demands a level of visual competence that is increasingly absent in professional, academic and public consumption of digital archaeology and heritage reconstructions (Hug 2012; James 1997; 2015; Marion and Crowder 2013).

The 'London Charter for the computer-based visualisation of cultural heritage' is one response to these issues (www.londoncharter.org). The Charter seeks to encourage greater 'transparency' in the creation and use of models through the publication of the 'paradata' on which interpretations are based (Beacham 2012; Bentkowska-Kafel et al. 2012; Denard 2012; Hermon 2012). It is perhaps slightly too early to assess the full impact of the charter on digital creativity within archaeology in 2016. However, as Beacham (2011, 52) notes, paradata can also be paradoxical. While archaeologists want others to engage critically and reflectively with the 'reality' of their data, interpretative lacunae can also encourage scholars to take an interpretative leap into the dark, where we might 'almost magically find something there to catch and hold us, and even dazzle the eyes of our onlookers' (Beacham 2011, 52). The remainder of this article explores the opportunities and tensions afforded by a recent project to harness digital creativity in the documentation, presentation and interpretation of a scheme of wall paintings in 'Shakespeare's School', Stratford-upon-Avon.


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