The Internet, images, and archaeology: a tutorial

2. Reconstruction and online archaeology

Archaeology has developed highly sophisticated and stylised techniques for analysing and presenting evidence, and theoretical frameworks for interpretation abound. Reports may make some of their theories and methods explicit, though information is prepared for particular audiences, and authors assume a certain level of knowledge. It takes time and experience to acquire the expertise to use this information well.

The images that accompany and enrich text descriptions are also constructed within theoretical frameworks, though again these are not always made explicit. Artefacts are cleaned, repaired and rebuilt, and may be portrayed in use; site plans and sections interpret the excavation record; reconstructions of buildings and structures are given, possibly populated; maps present a particular reconstruction of the landscape to the reader, and so on. Molyneaux The Cultural Life of Images (1997) has put together an interesting collection of papers discussing the power that archaeological illustrations have on attitudes to the past. Advances in computing enable these reconstructions to look very convincing, to the extent that the reader forgets to question the evidence on which these are based (Eiteljorg 2000).

When using multimedia resources, particularly for undergraduate teaching, the issue of reconstruction needs to be addressed:

Many of the Web sites collected for this tutorial are examples of fieldwork reports. These are ideally rich with texts and images, providing a background to the project and reports of recent and ongoing work. Çatal Höyük, Turkey (excavation directed by Ian Hodder) contains site diaries from team members, yearly reports, and other information. Anthropologists and artists are used in the project alongside archaeologists to explore excavation methods and processes. Attempts are made to raise the awareness of the team about their biases and assumptions and how these might be imposed on their reconstructions of Çatal Höyük. The information contained in the Web site therefore needs to be read carefully. Gardom's Edge, Derbyshire (University of Sheffield) is another rich multimedia site report (Edmonds and McElearney 1999). Another example is the ongoing Angkor Wat project, which is presenting its excavation reports online. They offer an elaborate interface allowing the user to zoom from a map of Cambodia and Thailand down to an excavation plan of an individual site. The Great Kiva project (John Kantner, University of California Santa Barbara) has made extensive use of CAD to reconstruct the interior of a Native American round structure. Although the reconstructions also allow one to listen to music while viewing the Great Kiva interiors, the latter do not contain any people, animals, and almost no signs of occupation. There are a few pots that one can also view and move around in a Quicktime clip, but they do not contain food. John Kantner has created an enticingly sterile world.

Users with limited archaeological knowledge will need guidance in order to make informed use of these excavation and monument reports.

Aesthetically pleasing Web sites can persuade one that the content is authoritative and scholarly. Wally Kowalski (Penn State University) has put together a range of interesting sites on various aspects of Roman and 'Stone Age' societies. Important issues arising from this sort of site include:


Last updated: Wed Aug 21 2002

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