1.2 Approaches to the different uses of the models

Three models of the House of the Surgeon were created and each benefited from a different approach regarding which elements to include and how much detail to put in, depending on the resources available, the information to be communicated and the intended audience. It therefore helps to document the reasoning behind the three different approaches taken.

Appropriate levels of detail

1. The interpretation of the house's structure

Clarity is the most important aspect of the models, especially in the communication of the possible configurations of the upper floor and roof of the House of the Surgeon. This applies both to clarity of images and sources, with an explicit statement of where the evidence for each speculative reconstruction originates. The configuration of the upper floor and roof of the site is of more use to a specialist audience, particularly researchers into architecture and water management. The aim of the model then is to examine the evidence for roofing and water collection and provide several competing alternatives. Detailed textures are unnecessary, inhabitants and contents are superfluous and lighting need not be realistic.

In comparison, Caroline Quenemoen's attempted reconstruction of the Portico of the Danaids in Rome (2006) uses a 3-D model to combine excavated architectural elements with the 2-D ground plan in order to produce a convincing hypothesis on how the original structure appeared. The 3-D aspect is used to ensure the visualisation is structurally feasible and to create 2-D images for printed publication. The views provided are a person's eye view of the Temple of Apollo with its surrounding portico and an orthogonal view of the portico frontage, showing the hypothetical reconstruction in a more technical manner. Textures are limited to a subtle marble effect, despite the article showing that the actual columns had been recovered in excavation and therefore realistic textures could have been applied. The images act as an aid to understanding the text rather than as a stand-alone method of communication; the text contains all the assumptions made in the course of the creation of the model in an explicit form. This model certainly isn't photorealistic and looks unconvincing as a representation of reality but acts as an adequate illustration in support of the author's hypotheses as explained in the text of the article.

2. The re-creation of wall decoration

The modelled wall decoration from the House of the Surgeon presents a synthesis of several sources of data brought together for the first time, giving the most complete representation of the decorative scheme since exposure to the elements removed most of the visible evidence. Again lighting should provide the clearest view possible; some sense of scale must also be provided but is not of primary importance in this model. In antiquity, furniture would obscure certain parts of the wall and lighting would affect visibility, especially after dark, but as this is intended to display the results of the work done on wall plaster in the house these aspects should be ignored.

In comparison, a UCLA team created extensive models of Trajan's forum in Rome, attempting to synthesise evidence from a large number of historical and archaeological sources (Packer 2001, images available here). Evidence from excavated ground plans and architectural elements is combined with records from the early 19th century, contemporary Roman accounts and representations on coins to give the most complete picture yet of the forum and particularly the Basilica Ulpia, its associated law courts. The model is presented very clearly with unnaturally bright lighting conditions in order to display the site to maximum effect. Some images have shadows, some have people for scale but there is no dirt or use wear, no signs that the building is a real, functioning location. This approach displays the research done by the UCLA team in a very formal manner, befitting the subject's status as one of Rome's greatest sites. It doesn't create much human empathy or indicate how the forum would have looked on a day-to-day basis. It does, however, allow other researchers to identify architectural details.

Packer offers only one suggested reconstruction of his own, although he does include a large section of comment on previous attempts. This is unsurprising – owing to the primarily printed nature of the work, it is impractical to expect all possible views of just the one model, let alone several alternatives. When displaying a model via print media, limitations apply in the form of the cost of reproducing colour images and the space available for them. This is one area where VRML, animation and web publishing of even still images, enables much more of a model to be displayed.

3. Presenting the site to the public

Conveying the archaeological interpretations of a project to a non-specialist audience will involve the creation of a familiar, immersive environment. People, furniture, signs of wear, dirt, flora, fauna, movement and life should all be included, along with natural lighting and, ideally, sound. Although these elements are sometimes not directly archaeologically attested in the house, it seems entirely reasonable to include them. This will necessarily introduce inaccuracy but the intention is to present the house as a whole rather than focus on individual elements and therefore it is the overall picture that should remain true to the evidence.

People undoubtedly did inhabit the house so to portray it without them in this kind of model is fundamentally misleading. Looking back at Alma-Tadema's scene of Pompeian domesticity (Figure 2), this image gives the non-specialist a more honest visualisation of antiquity than a photo of a Pompeian house as it appears today. It is largely fanciful and there are several elements that a specialist would take issue with but it has its roots in the archaeological record and is more likely to resemble the complex experience of antiquity than the bare walls of the city now.

People will also provide scale, although the complexities of portraying humans using computer-based modelling techniques can create problems which will be discussed in more detail later in this article. A populated, furnished model provides a much more experientially realistic illustration of ancient domestic life with its clutter, dirt, movement and life than the empty shell that the tourist experiences today. It can also illustrate the difference between purely architectural studies and those that include contents, the house looking very different once artefactual evidence is included.


© Internet Archaeology/Author(s) URL:
Last updated: Tues Feb 5 2008