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Film makers and their work with archaeological topics.

A day with Macedonian archaeology – “Neolithic settlement Tumba Madzari” (VIDEO)

This short documentary was recorded for the project celebration of international day of archaeology “Day of Archaeology 2013″ by association “Archaeologica” ‘with the support of Ministry of Culture of Republic of Macedonia.

Realization:
association Archaeologica

Interlocutor:
Elena Stojanova Kanzurova

Camera, Assembling, Music:
Jane Kacanski

Organisation:
Radomir Ivanovic
Elena Karanfilovska

Skopje, July 2013

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A day with Macedonian Archaeology “Arheo Park Brazda”

The archeological site “Gradiste – Brazda” is situated nearly 15 km north of Skopje, on a humble hill that rises over the village of Brazda. According to information (data) obtained through past researches, the site is classified as a fortified early antique settlement, dating from the 5th to the 3rd century BC and spreading over an area of 3.5 ha, which make it the largest settlement in the Skopje valley.

With the excavation of the monumental architectural edifice, known as “The Royal tomb” in 1986, the archeological site Gradiste claims a significant place in the archeological circles as well as the wider public.

brazda plan

With its specific characteristics, the Royal tomb at Brazda represents a unique instance of its kind on the wider Balkan peninsula.

It is a representative structure with a rectangular chamber with dimension of 9.8 by 6.6 meters and a dromos (passageway) with over 20 meters in length that steeply descends toward the west entrance of the tomb. The entire structure is built from large travertine blocks with an average weight of 500 to 1500 kg. Although it is a structure buried in the ground, the chamber blocks are decorated with a smooth rectangular frame encompassing the salient middle. The exquisite decoration of the rock, as well as the fact that the closest travertine mines are on a distance of 20 km from the site, are arguments enough to determine the economic power of the deceased and the settlement at large which was one of the more important settlements in the 5th century BC.

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Nevertheless, the city’s name, its function, meaning and regional administrative status are still unknown. Who were the citizens of Gradiste? This cannot be determined with certainty as well. The presence of red-figure vases among the ceramic findings is a confirmation of the existence of cultural and economic relations with Athens. Whether it is a matter of colonists from the southern part of the Balkan Peninsula who inhabited the settlement or maybe it is a result of the driving development of the local Paionian inhabitants are question left to archeology to resolve.

The idea for the project or to turn this place into a tourist attraction so it finally receives the attention it deserves was born when we first visited this archeological site as archeology students. A monumental royal tomb dating from the 5th c. BC towered before us with it massive stone blocks, but the entrance to it was nearly impossible and the whole place was overgrown with wild vegetation and buried under year and years of piled garbage. There were no signposts or information panels, thus the visitor can neither be led to nor informed about the immense historical heritage that they unknowingly pass by. The general public was completely unaware of its existence and more importantly so was the world.

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After many years and many tries to realize the wishful idea, in 2012 the association “Archaeologica” in partnership with the Museum of Macedonia and supported by ELEM through its social responsibility program, finally started working on the field in order to change the appearance (image) of this important cultural heritage turning it into the first archeological park in Macedonia – the Archeo Park Brazda.

The Archaeologica team toiled for months to arrange the site and its surroundings.

- The interior of the tomb and the passageway (dromos) were completely cleaned from wild vegetation and debris which increased the visibility of the site,

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- The plateau in front of the tomb was cleared and leveled,

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- An approach to the tomb was ensured by building an access path with two bridges,

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- A small square was built and wooden benches were placed,

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- A voluntary action was organized to clear the riverbeds of garbage

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- The landscape around the park was horticultural refined

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- Information panels and signposts were placed,

info tabla brazda

patokazna tabla brazda

- Informative flyers were printed and distributed

- The opening of the Arheo Park was covered by media – A web site about the park was developed (www.arheoparkbrazda.mk)

 

We paid particular attention to using natural materials in the realization of the project, materials that do not stand out from their surroundings.

By opening the first archeological park in Macedonia, ”Arheo park Brazda”, we strive to bring archeology closer to our fellow citizens, to raise the standards of archeology in Macedonia and to simply enrich the offer of cultural landmarks.

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The aim of the project is to protect as well as present a rare example from the world cultural heritage to raise the cultural and environmental awareness of the local authorities and the local population in the municipality of Chucher-Sandevo and to develop the tourism in this rural environment.

This kind of development and widening of the touristic offer of Skopje would contribute to the development of the village of Brazda se well, and of the surrounding area in this vivid and picturesque region.

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The short distance to the city and the well organized road infrastructure enable a fast and simple approach to the attractive recreational locations such as, the village of Banjani, the village of Gornjani, restaurant Chardak, etc. Simultaneously, in the vicinity of village Brazda numerous cultural and historical monuments dating from the 14th to 19th century can be found, dispersed through the foothills of Skopska Crna Gora: the church of St. Nikita in Gornjani village, the church of Holy Salvation and the monastery of St. Archangel in Kuchevishte village, the churches of St.

George and St. Ilija in the village of Banjani, etc. And finally, by adding the Gradiste site to this group of cultural landmarks, we arrive at an unforgettable whole-day experience, a tourist walk through the past in Skopje and the vicinity, from the beginnings of ancient times to today.

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The interest in this cultural monument significantly rose after mounting the signposts and the official opening of the “Arheo Park Brazda”. Apart from casual passersby that would learn about this place from the signpost, organized groups also visit the park. As the local inhabitants inform us, the site receives daily visits from foreign and domestic tourists who are in awe of everything this site has to offer from a cultural aspect as well as from the natural beauties that abound. The undertakings so far are just a part of the overall conceptual solution for this arheo park. Due to the heightened interest in the park, as well as the increased number of visitors, we are planning a realization of the second phase of the project that would include: setting up a wooden gazebo which would serve as an educational nest for the students of archeology and the pupils from primary schools located the vicinity of the site, as well as for larger groups of tourists; building access paths to Gradiste; setting up litter bins and additional horticultural enrichment along the paths and around the tent, as well as maintaining the park; mounting new signposts on key crossroads so as to alleviate access to the site, printing informative leaflets, etc.

We wholeheartedly hope that we will have an opportunity to realize these steps i.e. the second phase of the project, which would raise the Arheo park to world standards and contribute to the protection and promotion of the Gradiste site as a significant cultural inheritance, attract even higher numbers of foreign and domestic visitors, and encourage the development of rural tourism.

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CRM Archaeology Podcast – DayofArch Edition

CRM Archaeology PodcastEpisode 13 of the CRM Archaeology Podcast is all about the Day of Archaeology and includes discussions of some of the posts we read. Check out the show notes page here to listen to the show and for links to topics mentioned on the show. There are also links to the Day of Archaeology posts from the podcast panelists.

If you’d like to listen in iTunes then click here.

We’re also on Stitcher Radio.

Thanks for listening and have another great year of archaeology! See you next year!

Chris Webster, Podcast Host

DIGTECH LLC

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Archaeology for all

The 2013 Day of Archaeology falls within the 2013 Festival of Archaeology, run across the United Kingdom by the Council for British Archaeology. This year we have had even more events run by even more organisers, and we have reached out to even more people, particularly via the extensive media campaign which runs alongside the Festival. In fact on the Day of Archaeology our day starts very early with a slot on the BBC Radio 4 Farming Today programme as part of a theme running all week. In my interview, broadcast earlier in the week, in my role as the Director of the CBA I was able to promote the key role that farmers have as stewards of the historic environment on their land.

Having just got back from spending two long days in south Wales at the launch of the Cadw Community Archaeology Framework at Castell Coch, and at a meeting of the Welsh Culture Minister’s Historic Environment Group, it would have been useful to spend a day in the CBA office in York, but I was scheduled to head down to meetings in London. Covering the whole UK, as the CBA endeavours to do, means a lot of travel and increasingly means dealing with diverging heritage systems and legislation in each part of the UK.

On the Day of Archaeology itself, I first had a lunchtime meeting in London with Kate Pugh, the Chief Executive of The Heritage Alliance, to discuss the future business of the National Heritage Protection Plan Advisory Board, which I chair. The coming year will be particularly important for the Plan as the initial five year Plan runs to 2015 and we’ll need to start consultations about a new iteration of the Plan for the period after that, with the added complication of the proposals to restructure English Heritage kicking in around the same time. Hopefully the Plan is becoming increasingly embedded within the sector with an increasing number of organisations developing action plans  to map their activities on to the Plan’s measures.

After lunch, both Kate and I headed over to the offices of English Heritage in Waterhouse Square, for an informal consultation session on the plans for the future of EH. This was a very helpful session, prior to the launch of the formal consultation in September, and we were briefed by senior colleagues from EH on the proposals and given an opportunity to ask questions and share our initial thoughts which will guide the shape of the consultation and the new structures which will emerge.

On the train home it was a chance to catch up with all the emails that pour in every hour of every day (it seems!) and plan for the weekend ahead, attending a committee meeting of CBA North in Newcastle on the Saturday morning, and then heading over to Hadrian’s Wall and a visit to Escomb Saxon Church on the way back to York.

Archaeology for All – the vision of the Council for British Archaeology – is a fully inclusive, diverse, 24 hour a day operation!

ArchaeologyForAll2

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Karen Thomas (MOLA): Another musical day from the Archive

Started the day by walking from Liverpool Street to the office as part of my new fitness regime

First job was to finish the digital archiving for a small but, hitherto lost, archive under the Jubilee Line extension project in the 1990’s – LBG95.  Yesterday I spent ages trying to understand why there was a box of finds for this site with no archaeology (and therefore no contexts!) until the penny dropped and I realised that the finds belonged to LGB95.  Note to all archaeologists: make sure you put the correct site code on all your records including the finds labels!!!

Media meeting discussing all the great projects MOLA is working on and how we are publicising them via blogs, Facebook, Twitter and any other media outlet we can think of.  I think this is brilliant for getting the message out there however, I’m a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to technology which is why Stephanie is going to be ‘posting’ this for me (I hope I got the right word there!)

Back to some spreadsheet compiling for a project to digitise all our site reports – a bit dull but a very worthwhile project to free up some space and make the reports much more accessible.

LUNCH – actually escaped my desk today and had lunch with the girls.

After lunch, more spreadsheet stuff but with the happy distraction of listening to JB next door regaling a visitor from Argentina on the archaeology of Shakespeare’s London.

Had enough of the spreadsheet so moved on to another site archive that is nearly ready to microfilm.  Change of scenery and temperature with a trip to the Drawing Office (where the air conditioning actually works) to convert some report figures from coreldraw to pdf/a.  Nice and quick now there is a new W7 computer to use.

Back to the tropical conditions of the Archive to finish off the metadata – always a good thing to fry your brains on a hot Friday afternoon!

Now time to go home and enjoy the weekend.  Hope you’ve all had a good day.

 

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Day of Archaeology in Southern Arizona

This is a short message from Bill White, a historical archaeologist working out of Tucson. The rest of my week was eventful, but on the actual Day of Archaeology, I took an 8-hour MSHA refresher course. It was the usual– videos of people that didn’t wear their seat belts, fingers that got chopped off in machinery, folks that caught fire in chemical-related accidents, and huge mining haul trucks driving over small pickups. Basically, I was reminded that there are a thousand ways to die at a mine.

Fortunately, I spent the rest of this week out in the field; however, most of that fieldwork was actually driving between project areas and archaeology sites. I made a short YouTube video chronicling my week of archaeology. Check it out:

http://youtu.be/rR6SKoecRYs

On Monday and Tuesday, I did a little monitoring near a Hohokam site in Nogales, Arizona. I found myself doing some “emergency” survey work near Kearney, Arizona on Wednesday and Thursday. The survey resulted in the discovery of a huge Archaic period site along the Gila River that also had a significant historical component. The historical features were part of a previously recorded townsite and were primarily comprised of mining camps, mine shafts, test pits, open cuts, and a huge assemblage of early twentieth century artifacts.

The weather down here sucked. It was at least 100 degrees by 10:30 AM. Every afternoon it rained, so the humidity hovered around 70% all morning and didn’t let up until we got drenched by summer rains around 3:00 PM– just in time to hop in the truck and head back home. I hate to say it, but I think I’m almost used to the summers down here.

The thrill of discovery is what kept me going through it all. I love finding sites that, somehow, nobody else has identified. It’s almost as if they didn’t exist without my noticing them– kinda like physicists are trying to prove through recent quantum theories of time and space. Events and things do not exist without an observer… Maybe the sun has finally boiled my mind.

Anyway, I also posted about my travels and travails this week on my blog.

I’m also having a sale on my most recent eBook “Resume-Writing for Archaeologists” for the Day of Archaeology. You can download the book on the Amazon Kindle bookstore for free from July 26 until July 30, 2013. GO TO AMAZON AND DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE EBOOK RIGHT AWAY. If you’ve already bought the eBook, I’m sorry you missed out on the sale. Email me and you can get a free copy of my next eBook (bill@succinctresearch.com).

Take care and happy Day of Archaeology.

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Anyone can be an archaeologist!

You don’t have to be an academic or a commercial field archaeologist to appreciate and theorise about the past. Although most people are aware of and agree with this view, archaeology as a discipline (arguably) retains an exclusive membership of ‘experts’ who are given responsibility for the majority of construction and discussion of narratives that are made on the past. For these narratives to be intellectually well-rounded and personally relevant, it is essential that the discipline is accessible to as many people as possible and participation is encouraged.

I am a student at the University of York, have just graduated with a BSc in Bioarchaeology and am about to commence an MA in Mesolithic Studies. During the past year I have had the privilege of being Editor-in-Chief of a journal called The Post Hole. The Post Hole is run by undergraduate students at York and other universities across the UK. It stands out against many other journals by its inclusivity and engaging tone, making it a brilliant platform for literally anyone to share their research and views on the past.

A diverse audience of people read and have written for The Post Hole, including: Undergraduates, postgraduates, post-doctoral researchers, lecturers and professors, commercial field archaeologists, conservators, professionals from public and private-sector heritage organisations, community archaeologists and even one or two members of the public not formally involved with archaeology. Consequently, each monthly issue of The Post Hole is always interesting to read!

Covers of recent issues of The Post Hole

Covers of recent issues of The Post Hole

I am proud to have been involved with an initiative that has put me into contact with so many people who have fascinating interests and involvements with the past – whether it’s a student with a unique and otherwise under-acknowledged dissertation project, a member of the public running a community project that engages local school pupils with the past, or someone reflecting on their experiences of interacting with the past in their job or visit to a museum. I recommend a browse of the journal’s archive to find out more about what The Post Hole publishes.

Beyond The Post Hole and focusing specifically on the involvement of students with archaeology, I and two other students at the University of York held the 1st Annual Student Archaeology (ASA) Conference in June 2013. The two-day conference brought together undergraduate, Masters and doctoral students from universities across the UK, from as far afield as Aberdeen and Southampton. The purpose of the conference was to establish a new forum for students to engage with academic archaeology by sharing and discussing their research and volunteering activities with each other and people following the conference on Twitter and via a live-streamed video.

The 1st ASA Conference proved to be an enormous success. More than 70 students came to York and left with new ideas, new connections and well-deserved recognition for their contributions to archaeology – whether it be running the Edinburgh Archaeology Outreach Project in schools, carrying out innovative experimental research on the phenomenology of Old Babylonian oil divination, or zooarchaeologically revealing undiscovered practices of cock-fighting in Roman Britain.

Reproduced with kind permission of Ben Wajdner

Reproduced with kind permission of Ben Wajdner

I do occasionally find time to carry out my own research on the past. I specialise in the chemical identification of organic residues that have been absorbed into archaeological materials, such as pottery. My undergraduate dissertation involved me carrying out analysis of organic residues from modern food that was experimentally cooked in replicas of Jomon pottery from Japan, some of the earliest ceramic vessels in the world. The purpose of this work was to build a reference dataset for analysis of actual Jomon pottery that my supervisor is currently carrying out. Current results have been published and I hope to begin my steps towards becoming a lecturer by making further publications and conference presentations.

Although I would like to become a lecturer in order to research the past for a living, I hope a result of many of the activities you will read about via the Day of Archaeology will be that my career aim will not exclude me from fascinating and truly-valuable individuals who follow alternative paths to mine.

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Continuing Changes in my CRMArch Career

Nevada, United States, July 26, 2013

by Chris Webster, M.S., RPA

0515

Woke up and checked emails while having breakfast. Normally I do a workout too but today is just too busy. We’re recording episode 13 of the CRM Archaeology Podcast on Saturday and the topic is the Day of Archaeology. So, I have a lot of blogs to read.

On top of that, I’m finishing a draft of my first book, writing two proposals, and doing research for another project that I can’t talk about just yet. It’s going to be a busy day.

Before I really get into the day, though, I’d like to talk about my past “Days of Archaeology”. The first year this event happened was 2011. I was working for a company in the Great Basin and they had me monitoring on a seismic operation. So, that’s what my post was about. My wife was out there with me.

For 2012 I was working for a different company and had been made a Project Manager. My wife was no longer in CRM Archaeology and was pursuing other interests.

This year, I own my own CRM firm, I’m writing a book that will be published by Left Coast Press, and I’m hosting a fun and informative podcast. It’s amazing how life changes so quickly. Unfortunately, I think my income has experience an inverse relationship with my career path. I’ve been moving up in archaeology, but, since starting a company is a long and stressful process my finances have taken a serious hit. Don’t think that writing a book will make you rich, either. If I see any money from this writing it won’t be for another two years because of the payment schedule. So, back to my day!

0545 to 0800 Catching up on Blogs and News

I often spend time in the morning reading blogs and news articles. I post those to my Random Acts of Science Facebook page and they autopost to Twitter. Gotta keep the word informed about CRM goings on…

Today, though, I’m reading all the Day of Archaeology posts coming from the other side of the world. The U.S. hasn’t really started the day yet so there aren’t any posts. I’m reviewing posts that we’re going to talk about on the podcast.

0800 to 1145 Business Development and Proposal Writing

Most days I try to spend at least a few hours contacting potential clients and letting them know I exist. My business model is very different from most archaeology firms and I have to convince them that it’s a safe bet to go with me. That’s not an easy sell for some of these companies. I also run into the problem of not having any corporate experience. I have plenty of personal experience but my company is brand new. Some clients want to see past performance but I don’t know how to get past performance without performing. It’s all very circular.

1300 to 1630 Book Writing

As I mentioned above, I’m writing my first book. In case you ever thought about writing a book I’ll tell you how I came to this point. First, you have to have an idea. For me it was the idea that I wanted to tell people about things I wish I’d known when I started in archaeology. So, I started the Shovelbums Guide series of blog posts on my blog. It was well received over the two years I’ve been writing it so I decided that I’d compile all of the posts into an eBook.

When I was at the SAAs in Hawaii in April I showed the rough draft to the editors at Left Coast Press. I was really just wondering if there was anything like that out there. They said that there wasn’t and that I should send in a proposal. Their proposal guidelines are very straightforward and I did it easily. Within a few months I had a contract!

Now, I’m trying to finish up the draft of the book. It’s mostly done except for some little finishing touches. I also need to sort out the graphics. Since I’m doing this on my own dime I have to come up with everything on my own. I can’t really pay someone either since I won’t see any money from the book for two years. I think you have to write about two books a year to see consistent payments. Talk to Tom King. I think he does at least two books a year!

1900 to 2100

Finishing up my Day of Archaeology blog post and doing some reading. I haven’t read fiction in a long time. Archaeologists that want to stay at the top of their game are constantly reading. Sometimes it’s popular works on broad subjects and sometimes it’s papers and site reports. That part of the job is never done.

So, no fieldwork for my Day of Archaeology, but, a lot of CRM archaeology is done in the office. I’m trying to change that slightly with my business model but there will always be office time.

I hope I see a lot of CRM posts from the United States on the DayofArch this year. There was an increase between last year and the first year and I hope there are more this year. As far as I’m concerned, our job is only half done when the site report is turned in. They other half of our job is telling people about what we do. In many cases here in the west the projects are on public land. The public has a right to know what we found and what it means.

Happy Day of Archaeology and here’s to another great year of science!

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field!

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Representing archaeology

In police procedurals on TV, “driving a desk” is always the worst punishment imposed by the gruff police chief on the maverick detective. Being pulled out of the field and made to fill out paperwork takes the heart out of the job — the protagonist is always trying to find away to get back into active duty. I feel somewhat the same way about archaeology: I was in the field almost every year for nearly the first two decades of my involvement in the discipline, and the last five years or so I’ve spent working on publication projects has left me very restless. I can understand why some field projects never get published — it’s just too tempting to stay out there.

So while most of my days recently have been spent writing a book that uses data produced by other archaeologists, and preparing a book that presents the results of my own most recent dig, I thought I’d spend the Day of Archaeology doing a little of the hands-on detective work that I miss. I couldn’t get my hands dirty, alas, but I could at least go digging in some archives. My mission: to find the original of a photograph of a UT Classics classroom taken in the 19-teens or 20s. The archaeological connection lies in the set-up of the classroom, which included a series of 1:1 plaster casts of ancient sculpture purchased from the workshops of August Gerber in Cologne and Caproni in Boston. William Battle, a influential Classics professor who taught at UT between 1893 and 1948, had acquired an extensive collection of such casts for teaching purposes. The collection, mostly intact, is now held by the Blanton Museum at UT Austin, which has been working on an interpretation project for the casts on display. This photo would be included in the interpretive material to explain how the casts were originally used.

Photograph of the Classics classroom in the Old Main building on the UT Austin campus. A series of casts of Classical sculpture are displayed around the room. The photograph is held in the archives of the Briscoe Center for American History at UT Austin.

Photograph of the Classics lecture room in the Old Main building on the UT Austin campus. A series of casts of Classical sculpture are displayed around the room. The photograph is held in the archives of the Briscoe Center for American History at UT Austin.

 

It wasn’t hard to find the photograph, thanks to the organization of the archives of the Briscoe Center for American History at UT Austin. The casts are clearly visible, standing along one wall (the Hermes and Dionysus attributed to Praxiteles, the resting satyr, the portrait statue of Demosthenes, the Venus de Milo) or mounted above (parts of the Parthenon frieze and the Nike balustrade from the Athenian Acropolis). But the photograph, and the larger project to which it is attached, gave me a chance to think about how we communicate information about archaeology, if not about how we gather information.

It’s the gathering that’s the sexy part — I am inevitably drawn more toward updates from the field than I am to discussions of publication or data management. But while the collection of information on the ground may form the core of the practice of archaeology, what distinguishes the discipline of archaeology from looting or treasure-hunting is the attempt to represent what we find to audiences who don’t have access to the original material. This is where people who work with material culture spend the bulk of their time. The documentation we collect in the course of excavation or field survey is in service of this goal, as are the published reports and monographs we produce. The interpretation and organization of archaeological evidence is important in this process, but not, I would argue, as important as the representation of the evidence itself (would a pottery report with no illustrations or descriptions be useful to anyone?).

We take most of this for granted. What we represent is in large part dictated by disciplinary tradition, which developed in turn in response to the basic needs of the community of practitioners (one records the height and diameter of an intact vessel because other people need that information to compare their material or draw conclusions about the vessel’s function). Discussions of representation focus more on “how” than on “what” or “why”, and this is especially true of the shift toward digital technology. Which is the better representation of a stratigraphic context in an excavation: a page in a site notebook? A computerized database record? A digitized notebook page, plus a database record, plus a plan in GIS or AutoCAD? All of the above, plus 3D? All of the above, but with the record generated only in digital form on a tablet?

All these documents are attempting to represent the same thing: a physical feature that has been destroyed, or at least is not present for the reader of the documentation. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the “how” lately, as I prepare the final publication of the excavations I co-directed with Larissa Sedikova in the South Region of the site of Chersonesos in Crimea. Our documentation ranges from scanned notebooks to records in L – P : Archaeology’s ARK database to 3D layers created with photogrammetry and visualized in ESRI’s ArcGIS.

Three representations of the same feature (an ambiguous pit): left, a verbal description in a site notebook; center, an ARK database record; right, a 3D pdf showing a model derived from photogrammetry and georeferenced in the site GIS.

Three representations of the same feature (an ambiguous pit): left, a verbal description in a site notebook; center, an ARK database record; right, a 3D pdf showing a model derived from photogrammetry and georeferenced in the site GIS.

But working with the history of the cast collection led me today to think about what we choose to represent, and why. These choices are not natural, but very much constructed by culture, and they are not fixed. Early Classical archaeology sprang very much from the rediscovery of Classical art during the Renaissance and Enlightenment, and as a result, the study of Classical archaeology for much of the 19th century was not easy to distinguish from what we now call “art history”. The cast collection at UT was assembled to assist in the teaching of Classical archaeology, which was itself seen as a way to round out students’ understanding of the Classical world from the literary sources. Study of the Classical world was itself seen as a fundamental element of cultural capital in the West at this time, which explains why UT was willing to invest a substantial amount of money in the acquisition of replicas of Classical art.

The replication of ancient figural art — intaglio gems as well as sculpture — through physical casting was widespread in the 18th and 19th centuries, as a tool for both teaching and research. A cast collection allowed students to view together objects distributed through dozens of museums and private collections, and it allowed those without the resources to travel to Italy or Greece to see ancient art first-hand (almost). Casts were the internet of their day.

But in the mid-20th century, they fell out of favor — they weren’t real art, only copies, and furthermore they had sometimes undergone minor modifications in surface treatment or the patching of missing pieces to make them more aesthetically appealing, so they weren’t even faithful. Many collections were destroyed or dispersed at this point, including the collection of casts at UT: soon after Battle’s death in the mid-1950s, they were sent into long-term storage or handed out around campus as decor for offices and departments. They were “rediscovered” and restored in the 1970s and have been on display as teaching resources since then — but there is no guarantee that the aesthetic tide won’t turn again, since these aren’t technically “works of art”.

In this case, a particular way to represent a particular type of archaeological material — Art, with a capital A — fell out of fashion, and then returned to fashion as we became more interested in the reception of Classical antiquity in the early modern period. As it becomes easier and easier to create and disseminate 3D models of objects in museum collections, I wonder where these objects will fit into the story. Like the casts, they’re a way to convey “first-hand” experience of objects to an audience that can’t get to the objects themselves; like the casts, they involve a certain amount of manipulation, invisible to the user, that reduces to some extent the accuracy of the representation. Even better than the casts, they can be created very easily with inexpensive technology, to the point where Sue Alcock’s recent “Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets” MOOC had students create their own as part of the course.

belevdere (Click to view in 3D)

3D techniques and computational photography provide an exciting new “how” for the representation of archaeological objects. The “what”, however, is dictated to a certain extent by the technology (freestanding objects in the round seem most popular). And the “why”, for now, is partly “because we can!”. It’ll be interesting to see whether digital 3D representations become a standard part of the archaeological toolkit, like photography, or whether there will be a intellectual backlash, as there was with the casts. After all, on a Platonic level, we’re moving ever further from the ideal expression of an object. Will 3D models bring greater access to ancient art and archaeology to the online multitude, as this Google-glass derived printable 3D model of a head of Marcus Aurelius in the Walters Museum suggests? Or is an admittedly cursory 3D effort to model the cast of a Roman copy of a Greek sculpture nothing but an even more indistinct shadow on the wall of the cave?

I think some of the most exciting digital work in Classical archaeology that will be done in the next few years will actually involve tracing and visualizing the representation of archaeological monuments and works of art across time. Max Schich is already doing this with representations of Classical monuments in later art, and the Arachne database of the German Archaeological Institute has a contextual browser that allows one to visualize the relations between, say, an intaglio gemstone, a cast of the impression of that gem, an engraving of the cast of the impression of the gem, a textual description of the engraving of the cast of the impression of the gem… Understanding not only how we represent our material, but what we choose to represent and why, may help us understand better our own archaeological practice.

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