Husks, Seeds and winter is coming

It’s autumn here and the farmers are still working hard in the countryside to gather in the last of their crops and prepare their fields for the future. The grain harvest looks to be bountiful; winnowed husks given to the winds; the precious seeds meticulously separated, stored and preserved.

Husks and seeds have captured my imagination at the moment. I’m working on a paper which explores some potentialities of additive manufacturing (AM) technologies, e.g., 3D printing, to better inform us about archaeological remains – physical deposits, structures and objects – and the methods archaeologists deploy to ‘record’, ‘restore’ or ‘preserve’ them.

Researchers around the world are doing extraordinary creative things with AM technology. Museum curators, for example, at the Smithsonian in USA , are able to scan exquisite, rare and exciting, materially vibrant objects from around the world and make them available to be rematerialised anywhere else on the planet possessing an internet connection, a web device, and a re-fabrication unit. This is without a doubt a novel, profoundly important, multi-valent arena in the cultural heritage industry in which many new voices can be added to the narrative.

But what are these objects that are being created? They aren’t exactly copies because they can be scaled up or down, reiterated in different materials, at uneven resolutions, features enhanced, and so on. Yes, they resemble the prototype they are based on, but they are not the same. In some ways they are like our autumn husks, empty, devoid of content, or filled with an undifferentiated, but expensive and sterile polymer-impregnated space. On the surface they may be aesthetically pleasing, indeed very cool or sexy. However, more prosaically, like the original object they were based on, they are still subject to decay, mishandling and abuse, and so, ironically, as Victor Buchli (2010) shows, it is the “immaterial code” that the printers use to reprint the object of interest that emerges as the most stable entity in this extended assemblage. Both the old originals and the new originals are mortal. They are potent, but not as virile as those digitally recorded prototypical encoded seeds, immutable, transcendent, and promiscuous, and instantly transportable to any transcultural domain to be reproduced, abused or, possibly, recontextualised.

Ontologically fecund, but winter is coming

CAA2015, Siena Round Table session proposal

So my academic year kicks off with a joint proposal, with my good friends and colleagues Jeremey Huggett (University of Glasgow) and Gary Lock (University of Oxford), for a round table session at the Digital Archaeology conference highlight of the year: the International CAA 2015, to be held in Sienna 30th March — 3rd April. What a problem to have!

As we agreed in our well attended and lively CAA2014 session held in Paris, we are seeking to continue the discussion and start defining concrete steps to help move our digital archaeology to a new level. Here is the proposal we just submitted to the CAA 2015 Siena organisers. Comments and contributions welcome.

CAA2015, Siena, Round Table session proposal
“Challenging Digital Archaeology – the discussion continues”
Jeremy Huggett, Gary Lock, Paul Reilly

Following on from the vibrant discussions at the CAA 2014 round table “What do you want from Digital Archaeology”, the premise of this session is to develop and refine some grand disciplinary challenges which will generate transformative impetus and direction to the practice of digital archaeology and at the same time contribute significantly to the development of theories and methods in the discipline of archaeology more generally.

In this session we invite contributions which discuss areas which can truly revolutionise and challenge digital archaeology, and at the same time seek to engage the international expertise of CAA to help identify and agree some concrete steps to engage with selected grand disciplinary challenges.