1. Introduction

The increasing use of computers and multimedia technology in archaeology has, in recent years, widened the nature of illustration and reconstruction, opening it up to a much enlarged group of practitioners. In addition to the pioneering of complex forms of computer modelling and imaging, the inventive use of such media as VRML and QuickTime VR panoramas (e.g. Gillings and Goodrick 1996; Edmonds and McElearney 1999; Terras 1999, and this issue) has had an empowering effect. Those who a few years ago might have seen experiments in creating visual representations of their interpretations as an indulgence, are now often actively pursuing ways of moving beyond the purely textual projections of their interpretations. This has thrown into focus the question of what these images and visualisations represent in the discourse of the subject. The necessary issue is not to find new ways to criticise such creations, to assess their accuracy or worth, but to develop understandings of the ways in which such a complex visual vocabulary intermeshes with the traditional visual languages that archaeologists employ. What I am attempting here is an exploration of this complexity, looking for ways to describe and explain the many facets of this area of archaeology, and to create a framework through which these images and models can be better understood.

There has been an increasing amount of discussion within the discipline centred upon the nature of interpretative illustration in archaeology. Much of this has revolved around traditional reconstructions of past scenes and structures - the artist's impression. These have been held up to a series of critiques and have generally become "fair game" for historical revision. The reasons for this are fairly clear. Such images are both explicitly interpretative and often all encompassing in that interpretation. The trend for images to represent 'entire' interpretations, to be pictorial compressions of time, ensuring that all activities and artefacts are represented, has given the entire genre a vulnerability to attack. All of the interpretative eggs have been placed in one basket. In addition to this, the basket itself is seen to be somewhat lacking in scientific fibre, often having been woven by an artist, rather than an archaeologist.

Whilst this artistic involvement makes it easy to construct criticism of such images, it also helps to push them into another disciplinary realm, that of art history, thus offering academic legitimacy to such critique. The criticism and analysis in themselves illicit few concerns, resulting as they have in a number of excellent historiographic, iconographic, and sociological studies of such images (e.g. Burtt 1987; Moser 1992; Moser 1998; Stringer and Gamble 1993; and see Molyneaux's 1997 collection of papers for further examples). The problems arise out of the very nature of these concise, delineated studies. This well-studied end of archaeology's pictorial spectrum has been fenced off, through the study itself, from the other visual languages archaeologists use. Critiques of such images, often analyses with hindsight, are considered valid, whilst analysis of those images employed in the more prosaic visual discourse of the discipline (e.g. plans, section drawings, maps, artefact drawings) is dismissed as unworthy of such complex analysis - they are derided as self-explanatory and less theory-laden (see Moser 1992, 832). So how can we conceptualise this 'self-explanatory' pole of our visual sphere? And where does the tropic of technologically derived visualisations lie?

What writings that do exist about the visual representations that archaeologists use every day revolve primarily around the notion of such work as craft (see, for instance, Bradley 1997 and James 1997). Out of the visual expressions of fieldwork, it is really only photography that has been assessed at any deeper level (see Shanks 1992; 1997) and overall it fails to explore fully photography's particular and complex socio-historical context (see Bourdieu 1965). Moreover, much of that discussion has more to do with extending the scope of archaeological expression than developing an understanding of its contraction to its current delineated realms.

Where photography stands apart from the other traditions of field illustration is in its distinctly technological nature. It is the pure sciences of physics and chemistry distilled into complex machinery, embodying and offering all the combined objectivity that those influences muster. It is this character that, perhaps, offers an insight into how the new forms of archaeological representations can be understood. It is useful, however, to step back from specifics at this stage to suggest how more inclusive ways of assessing the images we use might be grasped. In order to create useful understandings of the complete spectrum of the archaeological visual vocabulary, it is necessary to turn away from archaeology's self-endorsed critiques and explore more comprehensive ways of describing and understanding the discipline's illustrative languages. In this a number of ideas become evidently appealing.


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