Fantasies Can Seem Very Real

Let me provide a different example from my own work. Consider Figure 5a, a view of the entrance to the Athenian Acropolis in about the middle of the 6th century BC. The entrance is based on the entrance gate of the Mycenaean period, complete with relieving triangle, the Mycenaean-era defensive wall of Cyclopean masonry with mud-brick capping, and a retaining wall for the ramp leading to the gate. In the view shown in Figure 5b, you see the entrance as modified by the Athenians after the victory at Marathon. Parts of the entrance have been beautified with marble, and steps have been added. Following the Persian invasion (Fig.5c), the entrance had to be reconstructed and the gate area was widened, perhaps simply to make the rebuilding easier. The rebuilding effort was not successful, though, and further repairs were necessary about the middle of the fifth century BC (Fig. 5d). This is the last of this series of entrances; the Propylaea of Mnesicles was constructed here. These are impressive entrances because of the Mycenaean wall upon which they are based; and the final phases have some sophistication, thanks to the marble blocks that were added.

Fig 5a
5a: entrance to the Athenian Acropolis in about the middle of the 6th century BC
Fig 5b
5b: entrance to the Athenian Acropolis as modified by the Athenians after the victory at Marathon
Fig 5c
5c: reconstructed entrance and widened gate area following the Persian invasion
Fig 5d
5d: entrance to the Athenian Acropolis after further repairs in the middle of the fifth century BC
Figure 5: Four phases of the entrance to the Athenian Acropolis from the 6th-5th centuries BC (javascript slideshow of figure 5)

Figure 6a shows another view, and follows the same sequence, this time from a more distant vantage point. I think this view helps to understand why the Athenians kept the Mycenaean entrance so long into the fifth century rather than demolishing it (Fig. 6b). Its impression of strength and its symbolic value (Fig. 6c) as the wall that kept the Dorians at bay (Athens being the only city to escape destruction) made it very important (Fig. 6d).

Fig 6a 
Fig 6b 
Fig 6c 
Fig 6d 
Figure 6a-d: Different perspective of the Athenian Acropolis entrance as shown in Figure 5a-d (javascript slideshow of figure 6)

I am not trying to present the archaeology here. I am merely discussing the structure and showing some images. A thorough argument would have involved a detailed review of the archaeological information in support of the reconstruction and ended with these images as the ultimate demonstration of the correctness of the argument. Another argument, reaching different conclusions but illustrated with published line drawings of the same structure, similar to these drawings (Fig. 7a-b), would seem much less compelling and would be at a disadvantage, not because the scholarship was of a lower standard but because of the imagery.

Fig 7a  Fig 7b
Figure 7 a & b: Line drawings of the entrance to the Athenian Acropolis (last two phases shown in both figures 5 and 6)

So whose version would be believed? Whose 'truth' would persuade the reader? It is all too likely that, even supported by sounder argument, the line drawings would not be persuasive when compared with better illustrations - better illustrations, not better argument. The images would remain with most viewers after the argument had faded. I believe Martin Emele was quite correct, and our concern for the power of the image must extend to the scholar as well as the tourist.

This may seem an unnecessary argument. After all, we have used drawings or reconstruction paintings like those of the Olynthus houses for decades. There are, I think, two significant differences though. Many computer images permit a level of detail rarely included in drawings or sketches, and the details can be telling. Equally important, as noted earlier, computers are taken to be dull, fact-based machines that create images based on a logical process without artistry. At a rational level we understand that the computer is only a machine carrying out human instructions, but I think computer reconstructions are too easily taken to be scientifically accurate because they seem to be completely rational creations.


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Last updated: Tue Aug 22 2000