Judith Winters *

Cite this as: J. Winters 2000 'Issue 8, Editorial', Internet Archaeology 8.

Issue 8 closes with the long-awaited 'The antler finds at Bilzingsleben, excavations 1969-1993' by Jürgen Vollbrecht - the article has been published in both English and German, making it another first for the journal. Few detailed publications on the Bilzingsleben site have been published in English, so this article will hopefully provide the opportunity for a new and wider audience to evaluate the site for the first time. Bilzingsleben is an internationally important site, and many conclusions drawn from it have had a bearing on the interpretation of the European Palaeolithic. Publishing the full set of data alongside his interpretation (there are 5 online searchable databases in total), Vollbrecht's study provides a context for re-evaluation of, and perhaps a counter-balance to, some of the interpretations that the evidence at Bilzingsleben has previously been used to support e.g. Mania's claim for areas of antler working and the implications that has for specialised hunting, a contentious issue for this period. The many levels of detail and data provided in the article should also give it appeal to both Lower Palaeolithic and faunal specialists, as well as to a more unfamiliar and general readership.

Issue 8 represents another small milestone in the history of Internet Archaeology. The other articles in this issue focus around the theme of computer visualisation, but this issue will not have an Editorial written by the journal Editor. Steve Dobson, the computing Experimental Officer here at York, takes over that responsibility temporarily. Actively involved in research and teaching in this area, Steve was the organiser of the session at Göteborg and some papers presented then (Evison, Eiteljorg, Larkman), now form the core of the issue. Steve urges that we should now be moving beyond the making of 'pretty pictures' and address the theories behind and validity of some the current approaches to visualisation.

Computer Visualisation and the Internet: Archaeology, Heritage and Accessibility

Steve Dobson

This collection of papers aims to address some of the issues outlined in session I.6 of the 4th Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) held in Göteborg, Sweden 1998. The session attempted to highlight the need for archaeology to embrace those elements of computing that were, and still are, developing rapidly as a major part of our language and mode of communication. The employment of emerging technologies has major implications toward the direction and form of our discourse and research, but it is perhaps the organic nature of the changing face of archaeological communication that urges us to investigate this phenomenon a little more critically (see Bateman). Huggett and Chen build upon this theme using as a case study the on-going work at Symon's Castle in the Welsh borders, and suggest a more flexible approach to the modelling process.Cummings addresses other aspects by integrating computer visualisation with methodology in the field.

Reconstruction as a means of visualising data is discussed in Martin Evison's 'Virtual 3-D Facial Reconstruction'. In this appraisal of computerised facial reconstruction techniques, Evison critically assesses the benefits and pitfalls of employing such technology within the fields of forensic science and archaeology. We are informed that whilst the methodology that Evison uses would appear to reconstruct facial features in an essentially empirical scientific manner, the "Reconstruction relies on a substantial degree of dexterity and artistic skill". It is this recognition that compels us to question the purpose and validity of visualised data and for us to be aware of the contexts in which they are designed to inform.

The process of assessing archaeological data and the building of a virtual space is addressing by Eiteljorg in 'The Compelling Computer Image: A Double-edged Sword'. Computer-generated models are presented here with possible methods for the definition of subjectivity within the field of archaeological reconstruction. Quality of data and the levels of supposition are implied within the model in an attempt to aid the 'reading' of data. In this case, rather than striving for a 'virtual' reality, Eiteljorg presents us with an 'alternative' reality that incorporates the differentiation between recorded and reconstructed data.

Larkman's approach to visualisation in 'Debriefing the Land' is to present the cultural landscape in a form that accentuates our 'sense of place'. In this case, panoramas are used to invoke an emotive feeling of understanding and affinity with the 'occupied' space. We explore Larkman's landscapes in a more organic way; our path is highlighted but not inflexibly defined, the photographer's 'frame' is reduced using such panoramic techniques thus empowering the viewer. This technique however still remains essentially a method of representation or 'construction' rather than 'reconstruction'.

We will inevitably perceive the past through perspectives modelled by our contemporary surroundings. This relationship is destined to change as society transforms and our methods of communication and interaction evolve. This collection of papers represents an attempt to address such perspectives and to demonstrate what forms these new methods of communication are starting to take. Perhaps more importantly though, there remains the need for critical appraisal of computer-aided visual archaeology and of the level of success in implementation.

"Computers have been essentially asked to behave as archivists, accountants, or quick statisticians. That means underexploitation; computers may perhaps feel a little frustrated, they should come of age and become 'archaeologists'!" (Fedele, Mottura & Straneo 1979)


Fedele FG, Mottura A & Straneo S 1979 'Computer and Stratigraphy: Profile Drawing from Plans' in S. Laflin (ed) Computer Applications in Archaeology 1979. Computer Centre. University of Birmingham.


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Last updated: Mon Oct 09 2000