Seeing what cannot be seen: theoretical considerations regarding virtual reconstructions and visualization of prehistoric archaeological sites

S4: Poster session | Poster
  • Evdoxia Tzerpou
    Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona
  • Joan Antón Barceló
    Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona

In the last decades, virtual reconstructions of historic buildings and archaeological sites have been frequently implemented both for research and dissemination purposes creating widely accessible and immersive content. However, certain concerns arise related to theoretical considerations as well as to practical hazards in the creation of models.

This poster will focus on the presentation and analysis of the theoretical considerations regarding virtual reconstructions and visualization of prehistoric archaeological sites. It will present existent critics of the use of virtual models, structure a theoretical framework for their implementation, and propose an alternative for the virtual models to be more dynamic and better designed for dissemination purposes (e.g. in museum exhibitions). This poster will not examine a specific prehistoric case study, but all the ideas elaborated below derive from reflections on the study of prehistoric sites.

Delving deeper into the theoretical considerations it is evident that many of the current critics to virtual models are actually critics to post-modernism; their core idea is that the model -or simulacrum- actually precedes and determines the reality. According to that, in the field of virtual archaeology the visualization(s) of the past could end up being “invented”, minimizing the importance of the archaeological data. This approach expresses a disagreement with the current post-processual archaeological theory and the derived multiple readings of the past, especially as applied in prehistory. Nowadays, this discussion still remains open.

On the other hand, critics have also been expressed about aspects related to the process of creating and using a virtual model, such as: the quantity and quality of information acquired prior to the reconstruction; the archive of data and the accessibility to it; the guidelines for the creation of models; and the validation of models and reconstructions. Moreover, special emphasis is put on the critics related to the use of virtual models, since, in many cases, they do not achieve to overcome being mere illustrations. Undoubtedly, the models contribute to transforming data into information, but usually they are not dynamic, and neither they enhance knowledge creation.

The creation of more plausible and visually friendly models was attempted during the past years, in order to improve the final product and answer some of the criticisms presented above. However, even if verisimilitude is an important factor to enhance virtual models, we will present interactivity as a key element to achieve so. The model is not only supposed to be part of the user’s activity, but to allow him to explore, interact, and discover information, concepts and stimuli. Therefore, the process and the different versions of a model should be displayed together with the final model, transforming the user into an active participant in knowledge creation through the interaction with them. Moreover, the preparation of open-access platforms/archives where virtual models can be easily accessible is also an important aspect.

In conclusion, a solid theoretical and practical framework is necessary regarding visualization theories, creation of digital models, and interactivity; that is how what cannot be seen finally becomes visible.