Art and Archaeology collide in drawings

Delighted to see my co-authored paper with Stefan Gant is out in the Journal of Visual Art Practice today. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14702029.2017.1384974

In this article, we explore what we perceive as pertinent features of shared experience at the excavations of an Iron Age Hillfort at Bodfari, North Wales, referencing artist, archaeologist and examples of seminal art works and archaeological records resulting through interdisciplinary collaboration. We explore ways along which archaeological and artistic practices of improvisation become entangled and productive through their different modes of mark-making. We contend that marks and memories of artist and archaeologist alike emerge interactively, through the mutually constituting effects of the object of study, the tools of exploration and the practitioners themselves, when they are enmeshed in cross-modally bound activities. These include, but are not limited to, remote sensing, surveying, mattocking, trowelling, drawing, photographing, videoing and sound recording. These marks represent the co-signatories: the gesture of the often anonymous practitioners, the voice of the deposits, as well as the imprint of the tools, and their interplay creates a multi-threaded narrative documenting their modes of intra-action, in short, our practices. They occupy the conceptual space of paradata, and in the process of saturating the interstices of digital cognitive prosthetics they lend probity to their translations in both art form and archive.

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Digital Practice at CAA Tubingen

CAA2018 banner

The Call for Papers for CAA 2018 to be held in Tübingen, 19th-23rd March, 2018 is open until 29th October 2017. There are two exciting sessions focusing on Digital Practice and Digital Scholarship in archaeology. Both these sessions in their different ways explore the value of digital practice to the discipline and to practitioners.

To save you looking, I have attached them below. We welcome all view points. If you would like to deliver a 15 minute viewpoint or 5 minute flash statement at the round table, or present a 10 minute paper please make your submission here or contact me.

S3 Digital Archaeology Scholars in a Changing World: Problems, Perspectives, and Challenges

Advances in the use of digital and computational methods in archaeology have encouraged great hope among archaeological computing practitioners regarding the potential of digital archaeology to transform archaeology as a discipline. Such an optimism was apparent in the diverse response received at the “Challenging Digital Archaeology” sessions organised in CAA 2014 and CAA 2015 (Hugget 2015 https://www.degruyter.com/view/j/opar.2014.1.issue-1/opar-2015-0003/opar-201 5-0003.xml). Nonetheless, positive views on the future of digital archaeology often come into contrast with the reality in academia for most archaeological computing practitioners, who sometimes face significant challenges in making their work accepted as genuine archaeological research and are often considered as “hybrid scholars”. Digital archaeology specialists often find themselves into an in-between space comprised of two or more disciplines, trying to create their own distinct identity, demonstrate their value, and get credit for their contributions to these fields. Academic hierarchies, conservatism, and established processes and practices are only a few of the challenges that hinder digital archaeologists from securing their status in academia. At the same time, digital and computational approaches to archaeology have created continuous needs for new modes of research, evaluation, collaboration, teaching, and publication that don’t always conform well with traditional academic practices. The focus of this session is on the role of digital archaeology scholars in a changing world with constant transformations in the academic ecosystem. Participants in the session are expected to contribute short papers of no more than 10 minutes. A ten-minute discussion will follow after each talk, while the session will conclude with a general discussion (30 minutes). Contributions that discuss philosophical and theoretical aspects of digital practice and scholarship are especially encouraged, as well as reflective works drawing from personal experience in distinct digital archaeology fields. Some relevant topics include but are not limited to: -What is the value or potential of digital archaeology research and how this is reflected in or contrasted with perceptions of digital scholarship in the wider discipline of archaeology? -To what extent are digital outputs and digital creations (e.g agent-based models, virtual worlds etc. ) accepted as genuine archaeological research? -What is the contribution of digital archaeology to new forms of research (e.g. crowdsourcing) and teaching practices (e.g. MOOCs, SPOCs, serious games etc)? -In what ways trends in computational archaeology for open data and open software policies, as well as reproducible research, could transform archaeological scholarship and publication practices? -To what degree the role of Digital Archaeology practitioners ties in with the concepts of hybrid-scholars and alt-academics discussed in Digital Humanities?

Eleftheria Paliou, Jeremy Huggett, Konstantinos Papadopoulos

S7 What is the Value of Digitally Mediated Archaeology?

For more than six decades archaeologists have been exploring the power of computer-based methods and digital technologies to advance archaeological inquiry and practice. Successive cohorts of CAA members have been, quite rightly, anxious to articulate the relevance and impact of their work to archaeology in general. However, Costopoulos in ‘Digital Archeology Is Here (and Has Been for a While)’ Frontiers in Digital Humanities 3:4 (2016) http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fdigh.2016.00004 suggests that there has been too great a focus on debating digital approaches and tools as objects of study and argues that far more emphasis should be placed on articulating the practical benefits of deploying digital tools in archaeology. In this Round Table session we ask “what is the value of digitally mediated archaeological practice?” We will question whether digital archaeology is merely the latest ephemeral fashion – just another technological fetishism, a significant upgrade to traditional methods, or an important new paradigm for archaeological practice. This round table welcomes participants from all segments of archaeological practice including but not limited to university-, state-, museum-, commercial unit-, and public-archaeology.  This format of this Round Table will be a series of pairs or triplets of presenters offering short points of view (c.15 minutes or less) followed by periods of moderated discussion, chaired in rotation by the organisers. We also welcome ‘flash statements’ (less than five minutes). The session will be concluded with an open dialogue based on the accumulated discussion and a wrap-up report by one of the organisers, summarising the discussion and suggesting follow-ups. Some potential discussion points: What benefits does digital archaeology offer? How do we evaluate it? How should we evaluate effectiveness and impact compared with traditional techniques? How might we best monitor and track progress? What new benefits could we propose to archaeology more generally? How does digital archaeology better connect us to other disciplines, the heritage sector and the public? Please contact the organisers if you wish to offer a point of view or flash statement.

Daria Hookk, Paul Reilly, Jeremy Huggett, Irina Grevtsova, Sorin Hermon, Franco Niccolucci

 

Annihilation Event – Digital Old Minster, the archaeology of a digital file

From the 22nd to the 29th March 2017 there is a really great event at the Lethaby Galleries near Kingscross St Pancras, London. Called Annihilation Event, it’s billed as having “no singular origin, but many strands and streams.  This is a project about copies, prints, scans, derivations, reconstructions, casts, and virtual models. The 6 day programme in the Lethaby Gallery will bring together a contrary group of artists, archivists, archaeologists, historians, technical experts and theorists from all over Europe.” Go and pay a visit.

I put two annihilation events into constellation here. One was a talk about the ontological status of casting the voids left by Pompeiians in the aftermath of Vesuvius’ eruption in CE 79. The other was the eradication of the Saxon Priory Cathedral of Winchester in 1093/4. I have already blogged and co-authored an article about the finding and restoration of the digital files of the “Old Minster”.  It’s significance is that its the earliest known virtual tour of a constructive solid model (CSG) re-imagination of what was probably the largest building in Europe at the time, before the Normans demolished it and replaced it with the edifice you can visit in the city today.

For this event, I worked with renowned sculptor Ian Dawson based at the Winchester School of Art to create a new instantiation of the Digital Old Minster of Winchester (see figure 1).

 

Figure 1: Digital Old Minster, the archaeology of a digital file, 2017, Paul Reilly & Ian Dawson.

The biography of the Digital Old Minster assemblage not only endures but continues to throw out new threads; this stage moves the 3D print into an art work.

Also in the exhibition, through the help of my collaborators on the original digital restoration project, namely Stephen Todd and Andy Walter, is a VR exhibit of the Digital Old Minster in which some exhibits have been placed. Visitors are invited to explore this exhibition space.

I’m thrilled that parts of our exhibit are in the exhibition and parts of the exhibition are in our exhibit!

Everyone is welcome to visit. Please do!

Digital Archaeology – Where are we and how do we fit in?

reilly-beale-ia-fig-2I was delighted to learn the multi-thread, multi-format session proposed by myself and my colleagues John Pouncett and Steve Stead to CAA Atlanta (March 14-16, 2017) has been accepted (http://caaconference.org/program/sessions/#title14). It seems to be a natural response to one of the main obstacles to making progress on the disciplinary “Grand Challenges” in digital archaeology that we have been discussing these last three years; namely, getting one’s arms around the challenge. This is an attempt to break the elephant-sized obstacle down into bite-sized pieces!

CAA 2017 Session Proposal: Digital Archaeology – Where are we and how do we fit in?

Abstract: Digital technologies are integral to many facets of current practice in archaeology (universities, field units, museums, archives, CRM etc). However, we see little evidence of disciplinary-wide coordinated programmes but clear indications of fractures and silos. For example, spatial data collected in the field is typically held separate from what we might call the rest of the archive. The result is a kludge of technologies and applications with no clear overview of what is available (let alone best of breed or best value) and, equally important, what is needed.

The premise of this multi-format/session thread is that we need to bring clarity to the CAA membership and the wider archaeological community regarding where, how and what archaeological computing and digital technologies are available to benefit the discipline, and where there are gaps or opportunities to add most value. As far as we are aware there is no high-level enterprise, business, process or functional model of the discipline of archaeology showing how it fits together together and functions. Consequently, there are no maps elucidating where archaeological computing or digital archaeology plays a significant role.

The aim of this thread is to catalyse a dialogue which will produce a high level model of our discipline, allowing us to start the process of identifying and mapping our assets and resources. To this end we are proposing a three-stage community effort at CAA Atlanta with three session formats to start the dialogue between practitioners:

  • Stage/Session 1. We invite individuals and groups to send a single page diagrammatic description of the discipline (block diagram, flow chart, Value chain etc) to p.reilly@soton.ac.uk. Each model will be displayed as part of a “poster” session, and CAA members are encouraged to leave comments/questions using post-its;
  • Stage/Session 2. A moderated forum where, following a position paper, each poster contributor briefly presents their model (max 5 mins each) leading to a moderated, minuted discussion;
  • Stage/Session 3. A facilitated ‘birds of a feather’ session in which small groups each develop selected parts of a consensus model and begin mapping assets and resources, and document issues.

Hope to discuss this with you in Atlanta! Thanks for your interest.

New life in Old Digital Models

The 3D computer-generated models and animations of the Old Minster of Winchester were remarkable in 1984-6 for producing the earliest animated tour of a virtual archaeological monument. Thought to be lost, thirty years on the original model files were rediscovered buried under layers of now unsupported code and recovered. The models written in a proprietary CSG modeller called Winsom turned up again last spring (2015). The full story of their rediscovery, restitution and recent transmogrification,  written with Stephen Todd and Andrew Walter, will be found – with models and animations- in (Reilly, Todd and Walter 2016).

In short the original models were transcoded from Winsom into an opensource solid modeller (i.e. OpenSCAD), and in modernising the digital Old Minster the original virtual model of the final phase of the Anglo-Saxon Priory Cathedral reimagined prior to its demolition in 1094 has also been translated into a material one in the form of a 3D-print.

Exhibit: WebGL rendering of half section of final phase of ‘Old Minster, Winchester’ re-imagined prior to being demolished in CE 1093/4 (http://programbits.co.uk/minster/minst.html)

Digital assemblages and objects like their physical counterparts gather histories around themselves as they accumulate new significance, connections and meaning throughout their existence (see, for example, Reilly 2015c). The biography of the digital ‘Old Minster, Winchester’ is a case in point. The rediscovery in April 2015 of model definition files, previously thought lost, led to the recovery of the original solid models’ exact geometry. This, in turn, enabled them to be transcoded and then re-presented graphically.  Advances in additive manufacturing technology now enable new kinds of intra-actions with these models, and allows nascent objects, such as cut-away models, inherent in the model files to be instantiated as physical outputs in a variety of different materials and scales (i.e. 3D printed Virtual Heritage ) for further multimodal exploration.

Currently, this apparent potential to align virtual and physical heritage appears to be under-theorised and, if left unaddressed, is set to radically disrupt current best practice in the discipline (see for example Reilly 2015a). Increasingly affordable additive manufacturing represents both an opportunity and a challenge to virtual heritage (Reilly 2015b). On the one hand, 3D printed heritage exhibits the attractive qualities of tangibility and durability, and is amenable to the well-rehearsed processes for curating physical objects. On the other, material instantiations of ‘virtual’ heritage may reintroduce intellectual opaqueness into the models once they are decoupled from the metadata and paradata that previously accorded them the status of being scientifically transparent (see Bentkowska-Kafel, Denard and Baker 2012).  What is at issue here is that like all 3D printable objects, heritage assemblages can be reiterated and, crucially, re-contextualised by anyone, anywhere in the world with access to the web.

In such circumstances, how can virtual heritage practitioners adhere to the London Charter’s central principle of accurately conveying to users the status of the knowledge that these new objects represent, such as distinctions between evidence and hypothesis, and between different levels of probability? There is a manifest need for an implementation of the London Charter guidelines focused on ‘virtual-material heritage’ outputs. Clearly, this warrants extensive and critical discussion within the expert community to establish new de facto standards to which such virtual-material outputs should be held accountable.

In the course of this rediscovery project we learned first-hand that 3D computer-based archaeological and cultural heritage models, built with emerging technology, have a very limited shelf-life unless exceptional measures are put in place to sustain them. Consequently, identifying and curating the many landmark virtual objects which have been developed on a huge array of technology bases over the last 30 years will be a weighty challenge for historians and curators wishing to take stock of the inception, early years and key developments in virtual heritage.

Finally, returning to the Old Minster, this virtual heritage model is once again a ‘needy digital object’ calling for an appropriate access and sustainability strategy to be developed (Edmond 2015). The project has returned to the status of a ‘work in progress’.  Moving forward, a number of areas within the model that were originally incomplete (because the virtual tour never visited them) can be developed to agree with the evidence available from the original archaeological, historical and comparative research. In addition to extending the biographical threads pertaining to the Old Minster models, the entangled biographical threads of the modelling technology used to instantiate these geometrically-defined hypotheses are also being drawn out. For example, the Old Minster models are implicated in the development of another reincarnation of Winsom called GOW (Grandson of Winsom) which, hopefully, will soon be released as open source.

References

Bentkowska-Kafel, A., Baker, D. and Denard, H. (eds) 2012. Paradata and Transparency in Virtual Heritage, Digital Research in the Arts and Humanities Series. Farnham: Ashgate.

Edmond, J. 2015. Collaboration and Infrastructure, in: Schreibman, S., Siemens, R. and Unsworth, J. (eds), A New Companion to Digital Humanities. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. DOI: 10.1002/9781118680605.ch4.

Reilly, P. 2015a. Putting the Materials Back into Virtual Archaeology, in: Hookk, D. (Ed.), Virtual Archaeology (Methods and Benefits). St. Petersburg: The State Hermitage Publishers, 2015, 12-21. http://www.academia.edu/15076178/Putting_the_Materials_Back_into_Virtual_Archaeology

Reilly, P. 2015b. Additive Archaeology: An Alternative Framework for Recontextualising Archaeological Entities, Open Archaeology, 1 (1), ISSN (Online) 2300-6560, DOI: 10.1515/opar-2015-0013, October 2015.

Reilly, P. 2015c. Palimpsests of Immaterial Assemblages Taken out of Context: Tracing Pompeians from the Void into the Digital, Norwegian Archaeological Review, DOI: 10.1080/00293652.2015.1086812

Reilly, P., Todd, S. and Walter, A. 2016. Rediscovering and Modernising the Old Minster of Winchester, Digital Applications in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage, 2016. DOI: 10.1016/j.daach.2016.04.001

What do Digital Archaeologists do?

Digital Archaeology 1100101

Ask any archaeologist what they do, or what does archaeology involve, and I suspect more than one different answer for every practitioner you approached! Similarly, the dark arts of digital archaeology are likely to generate an ‘infinition’ – a suitably obscure word for a suitably vague connundrum. This raises a question: should there be a definition, a high level description of the major activities or responsibilities that archaeologists have in the various front and back offices of units, academia, museums and so on?

The short answer is ‘yes’. At a minimum, it seems to me that we need some kind of architecture, a blue-print, that we could point to and say “that’s were I fit in: remote sensing” or “that’s me: trowel blazer”, or perhaps “I fit in several boxes entirely and bit of this and a bit of that” (at which point we might want to drill down to reveal…

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A Permeable Sealed Context and a Stratigraphic Conundrum

Surfaces have a special status in the archaeological record. They present an unique aesthetic peculiar to the trenches. Archaeologists like to photograph and draw them prior to making a new, hopefully equally pleasing, or intriguing, surface when they have finished excavating (aka dematerialising) the context or feature.The contexts themselves, however, are more complex and draw attention to the concept of boundedness; inside and outside.

Boundedness poses some problems to conventional understandings about the nature of the archaeological record in the case of the excavated ‘material’ being composed of interior ‘spaces’. Sometimes a bounded space denotes the inside of a place, such as a painted cave, hypogeum, catacomb, or mine, or the worked insides of a hollow artefact such as a mesopotamian sealed bullae (clay envelops with accounting tokens sealed within). Juxtaposed to these are negative spaces, or voids, delimiting exterior boundaries of a dematerialisation. Immaterial now but, sometimes, still profoundly intransigent, absent presences witnessed as imprints. The classic examples being the poignant ’empty’ moulds at Pompeii, reservoirs full of final dispair; fossilised echos of the final moments  of the people who succumbed to the pyroclastic surges and who were then buried in the ashes of Vesuvius. Conceptually, neither structure, artefact, nor deposit, sitting on the cusp of being either (or neither) positive or negative stratigraphic features, they are sealed contexts. However, stratigraphically, this immaterial assemblage is also simultaneously earlier, co-terminus and later than the volcanic spew. The boundaries of these stratigraphic features present a conundrum.

Boundaries can also be ambiguous in virtual archaeology, and here I’m thinking of 3D printed things. Paradoxically, although the additive manufacturing digital code defining the physical thing is extremely stable, in the sense it doesn’t decay, the encoded entities thus defined are actually very permeable and extensible. Whereas the limits of the physical objects may be clearly defined surfaces, the boundaries of the digital object are drawn by the same file format in which they are encoded, that is the same digital code that marks the content and the voids. Such digital artefacts and assemblages besides being porous are easily networked, replicated, aggregated, augmented, processed or transcoded into other formats (D.M. Berry 2014), and thereby extended. They are also susceptible to new kinds of exploration and analysis. Indeed they can be reconceptualised and recontextualised.

Where does the digital assemblage end (or begin) and the material context begin (or end)?