3. Technology and the archaeological society

It appears then that these technologically produced visualisations fall into a void created by the traditional critiques of archaeological illustration. They are both explicitly technological products (seen perhaps as having little link to the craft elements of traditional illustration), and as essentially subjective renderings of archaeological material (overlapping with the artist's reconstruction). Having slipped the net of such traditional critiques, we must assess their ambiguous position in the light of the more comprehensive approach outlined in the previous section.

The key to defining the nature of these images lies, as has already been mooted, in their technological nature. To outline the processes that create them is to describe a series of stages that inhabit deeply technological realms. From the initial stages there is an unavoidable focus upon the machinery of modern archaeological work. Precise survey techniques, the integration of GIS data, computer rectification of photographic survey: these all exist, however, within social worlds revolving about the exchange of both information and skills and the explicit acknowledgement of such techniques as the fulfilment of valued roles within the discipline. Those who fulfil these roles comprise an increasingly active group whose self-identity could be seen to be centred upon their activities as facilitators to the wider, non-technical, archaeological community. The intra-disciplinary specialisation required to become sufficiently competent with the requisite hardwares and softwares mean that those active in this sphere become distinctive repositories of skills and technical knowledge, they become facilitators to those unable, or unwilling, to afford the time and effort to develop such skills themselves.

The delineation of this coterie of technophiles is enhanced by the fact that the tools they employ are extra-disciplinary in origin. The reapplication of these hardwares and softwares often involves movement into and within professional and social spheres outside of archaeology. To use the available technology effectively, it is essential to be either a part of, or in touch with, those more commercial disciplines that drive the development of such technology. This creates a fluid boundary to the discipline at this point, enabling the exchange of both ideas and people to and from archaeology, as people 'shuffle' to find their preferred positions. Many of those active in this field clearly feel it is important to set themselves either inside or outside archaeology, either submitting themselves to the discipline's social and theoretical dynamics or placing themselves, explicitly, beyond its reach, in a position where they 'lend' their skills to the discipline. This is most clearly witnessed in conference sessions, where, beyond announcing organisation affiliations, speakers will often state whether they are (at a self-defined level) an archaeologist (for instance the Visualization and digital imaging in archaeology session, EEA Conference, Bournemouth University, 18/9/1999, and also very clearly in initial postings to a new email discussion list, vista: 3D Visualisation Standards in Archaeology

Such opportunities that become apparent at the fringes of a discipline (and archaeology could be described as a tight-knit, if not insular, discipline), and the technical and social abilities required to exploit them to the full, firmly establish the protagonists in essentially liminal roles. Whilst taking the role of negotiators at the edge of the disciplinary realm, they also seek to fulfil their aims as translators of archaeological data from the inaccessible to the accessible. This tendency to be defined as 'translators' of archaeological products (into visual forms) has resulted in the mechanics of that translation becoming the primary node of discussion in the writings surrounding these techniques (e.g. Gillings and Goodrick 1996; Daniels 1997; Roberts and Ryan 1997). This focus has thus allowed considerations of the theoretical implications of such production to be somewhat sidelined. Perhaps the most important aspect of these electronic products is, however, a distinctly theoretical consideration - that they represent, simultaneously, both mechanical products and the mechanical reproduction of those products.


© Internet Archaeology URL:
Last updated: Fri Jun 23 2000