Theorizing Visualisation: From Molecules to Landscapes

Posted on March 4, 2020


This part of my series of posts on conference presentations, that I have filmed. This is another one from the TAG conference:

Session Info

Visual representations have been seminal to the generation of archaeological knowledge since the birth of archaeology. Nowadays archaeologists of all branches and theoretical orientations deploy, on a regular basis a wide array of visual methods to represent empirical (i.e. sense) data; from drawings and photographs to images produced by advanced digital technologies (e.g. within the framework of microscopy, geospatial technologies, etc.). Influential works have highlighted the role of images in framing questions and interpretations (Moser, Perry), in re-creating the Cartesian divide between body and mind (Thomas), and image-making, particularly illustration, as a creative process in the crafting of archaeological narratives, while calling for reflexivity and multi-vocality in image production (Perry). Yet, given the relevant role that images of all kinds play in our daily practice as professionals, researchers, and teachers, it is surprising to find that there are many processes of image-production that are still taken for granted (i.e. ‘black-boxed’), while the use and potential of numerous visual methods (particularly those considered more ‘scientific’) have not yet been critically scrutinized and remain within the realm of restrictive normative practices. The session’s contributors will expand on existing theoretical debates and/or interrogate visual methods from new perspectives, including: § Image and image-making from the perspective of recent theoretical trends, such as New Materialism (i.e. assemblage theory, agential realism). § Image-making, multi-vocality, participatory practice, and communities of practice § Archaeological visual culture § Visual representation as a learning tool § The circulation of images § Image and temporality, multi-temporal representations § Visual representations and the senses § Merging methods and the creation of hybrids

Marta Diaz-Guardamino, Jacqui Mulville, Ian Dennis, and Rhiannon Philp

Visualizing Prehistoric People in Japan: From the perspective of sociology of archaeological knowledge

In Japan, popular visualizations of the remote past began in the modern era, the end of 19th century, coinciding roughly with the introduction of archaeology and anthropology was from Western countries. This paper examines the transitions in how prehistoric people were visualized in Japan from these beginnings and up to the present. It raises several key terms and provides a comprehensive framework to grasp the image-production process. This kind of analysis tends to focus on the interactions between archaeology and society, regarding each as a collective body. In contrast, this paper attends to a more detailed unit, that of the actors’ network surrounding the visualization of prehistoric people. In this case, the term actor includes human and non-humans such as the individuals producing images, archaeological discoveries, the political climate, and the drawings themselves. Visualizations of prehistoric people mainly reflect the changes in Japanese political climate which affected archaeological practices from before and during the war to post-war era, it shows the diversity of actors involved, and highlights interactions with Western archaeology. Conversely, it is a key to understanding the broader ways in which archaeology influences society.

Yasuyuki Yoshida (Kanazawa University)

A Critical Review of Visual Media in Artefact Shape Analysis

Researchers have long stressed the role of scientific illustrations in creating ‘expert knowledge’ (sensu Moser 2014) and the shaping and framing of interpretations and future research questions (Perry, 2015). In their very nature, these scientific illustrations are reductionist, compartmentalising analyses into a small number of variables, nodes or taxa. It is therefore important that the more visual, or ocularcentric, frameworks are critically assessed and better evaluated within the normative processes of hypothesis testing and narrative building. One particularly visual example is in archaeological shape analysis and specifically in geometric morphometric (GMM) methodologies. In their use, artefacts are decomposed and simplified to a number of points, sides, curves or surfaces, with theoretical shape changes and mean shapes often fuelling further analyses and thus expert knowledge. The illustrations produced from GMM are powerful images documenting how an assemblage can be understood in terms of shape variance, however these have been accepted at face value and not critiqued for their role in knowledge construction. This presentation will therefore examine the role of visual media designed throughout archaeological shape analyses, and their role in the construction of archaeological narratives and the knowledge-creation process. Using a variety of two-dimensional and three-dimensional case studies, this presentation addresses the epistemological significance of the visual media created, and provides an example of how archaeologists need to reflect and consider the scientific illustrations they create and disseminate.

Line Lauridsen (Aarhus University), Christian Steven Hoggard (University of Southampton/Aarhus University) and Felix Riede (Aarhus University)

Visualization, Depiction and Interpretation: An ongoing conversation about engaging with landscape topography

This paper explores a tension at the heart of landscape archaeological field practice. Digital topographic data (3D) are proliferating rapidly. Powerful ways of looking at digital topography have emerged, drawing on data visualization and enhancement techniques to highlight features in ways not possible in the field. However, this does not equate to interpreting such data, for example by determining and representing sequences of features. In contrast, traditional archaeological survey of earthworks draws on over 100 years of practice and an established means of representing interpretations of archaeological features. This is an approach that has archaeological experience, field observation and visual representation at its core, working on site to understand and depict the observer’s archaeological interpretation of features, often using the long-established convention of hachures. There are clear synergies between the traditional field- and experience-based approaches to understanding and depicting earthworks and the multiplicity of analytical tools and visualisations afforded by digital 3D environments. This paper will discuss connections between our visual engagement with the landscape through traditional archaeological earthwork survey and hachure drawing and digital engagements through visualizing remotely sensed 3D data. It will consider the impact of the various mechanisms and modalities available and the potential for hybrid approaches.

Rachel Opitz (University of Glasgow)

To See or Not to See: Computing and sensing Atlantic art’s (in)visibility

Atlantic Art, widely spread across the Atlantic seaboard, is well-known for its cup-marks and cup-and-ring motifs as well as other variations of these images. Although initially research of this rock art tradition was focused on the iconography and typically studied through static typological tables, in the 1990s an important turn, led by Richard Bradley (e.g. 1997), placed the emphasis on the landscape. Since then, Atlantic Rock Art has been often approached under the premise of Landscape Archaeology. One of the main features studied is the visibility affordance of the carved rocks, since it is believed that extensive viewsheds and inter-visibility were two important factors involved in the decision of where to carve. Recently I have completed a re-assessment of Atlantic Rock Art considering the evidence of the various modern countries in which the tradition was practiced. The study encompassed several scales of analysis and methods, including a landscape appraisal in which visibility and viewsheds were analysed. The development of an ‘embodied GIS’ (Eve 2014) which combined the result of GIS analysis with a sensorial approach to the landscape enabled interesting conclusions and the suggestion that visibility was probably not a priority when deciding where to carve Atlantic motifs. In fact, this dimension is probably overestimated by researchers. In this paper I will discuss the results of visibility and viewshed obtained through GIS analysis and contrast these with empirical observations, drawing conclusions about the importance of extensive views to Atlantic Art.

Joana Valdez-Tullett (Historic Environment Scotland)

Digital Interactive Visualisation of Archaeological Sites: A case study from Middle Bronze Age Cyprus

Archaeology has always been a profoundly visual discipline as it frequently utilises pictures, drawings, illustrations, artist’s impressions and, more recently, 3D models. However, while well-established in archaeology, 3D models are often uncritically adopted without a clear idea of how they might be used and perceived by different audiences. The research project I present is aimed at evaluating how varying audiences perceive 3D interactive visualisations of archaeological sites, engage with and learn through them. Using the case study of the Middle Bronze Age Cypriot settlement at Erimi- Laonin tou Porakou (2000-1450 BC), this research considers each phase of the multistage process from the creation of an interactive 3D model, to its presentation to varying audiences in a range of settings, to the evaluation of its effectiveness and the definition of guidelines for a subsequent improvement using users’ feedback. The methodology proposed for this project entails the application of both qualitative and quantitative approaches and an evaluation framework involving multiple iterations. Through a study conducted using different user groups (composed of expert and non-expert users), I collected and analysed users’ feedback to identify the best way to present 3D models of archaeological sites to different audiences, improving their impact and comprehensibility.

Francesca Dolcetti (University of York)

To Find Un-Findable: How analysis of DTM (Digital Terrain Model) of forest areas can boost archaeological surface survey to the new level

This paper is about the initial analysis of a series of anthropogenic objects which were discovered in northern Poland thanks to analysis of the DTMs (Digital Terrain Model) of forested areas. Recently, within the Framework of the governmental ISOK Project, the whole territory of Poland was covered by LIDAR aerial scanning with resolution of 4 to 12 points per m2. In this context, DTM is providing new opportunities for the discovery of archaeological sites in forested areas. Monuments with prominent terrain forms, such as mounds or hillforts, are revealed through hillshade type analyses. However, poorly noticeable features with large surface but small exposure are particularly difficult to visualize. These require higher resolution analyses, which generate more noise and worse resolution. This paper will present the results of recent research aimed to optimize the visualization and interpretation of such features by means of a variety of advanced analytical methods based on DTM data. The case studies are a series of enclosures located in Świecie Plain near the villages Osie, Tleń, Miedzno i Wierzchy, Osie Commune, Świecie District. The results of this research reveal how the selection and order of the analytical tools are as relevant as the parameters chosen to undertake DMT analyses.

Mateusz Sosnowski (Copernicus University in Toruń), Jerzy Czerniec (Polish Academy of Science Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology) and Krystian Kozioł (AGH University of Science)

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