TAG-USA Chicago 2013

This website is the result of a session we coordinated at the TAG USA conference in Chicago in May 2013. We were in the unique situation of being able to stream the session from both sides of the Atlantic, from Chicago itself, Southampton, Victoria and San Diego.

Session Abstract

Research begins with a series of observations on a site, object, monument or related space as it stands in the present, and leads to the construction of narratives which aim to craft a dialogue between that experience of the real today and the experience of the real in the recent and distant past. Visualisation is a critical methodology in such narrative creation—extending far beyond mere presentation of results into the actual constitution of data and the working and reworking of archaeological ideas. It is a key player, then, in the process of mediating the real. The visual tools we use (both new and old), their interactions with our ways of seeing, and the relationships between these interactions and our experiences on-the-ground — with collaborators, spaces, and other sensory engagements — affect how we do archaeology and conceive of the past. In other words, visual practices are intimately connected to different ways of thinking, and such connections can be (and have long been) exploited to productive effect.

This session seeks to explore such ideas via a session linked across two continents, broadcast online in the form of a series of ten minute papers followed by roundtable discussion. The discussion will be accessible to participants in Chicago, and in the UK at both the University of York and University of Southampton. We will be presenting short papers introducing different methods of visualisation (including illustration, photography, survey, creative media or computer graphics) or different modes of collaborating visually. Our intention is to nurture a discussion around how vision and imaging impact upon archaeological knowledge creation, shaping our research and the future of our practice.


Colleen Morgan & Daniel Eddisford – Simulacra and Cultural Heritage in Qatar

University of California, Berkeley & Origins of Doha Project


Dr Colleen Morgan received her PhD in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley in 2012. She has worked in Turkey, Jordan, England, Greece, and at Al Zubarah in Qatar. She is interested in digital media and cultural heritage and works both on site as an excavator and coordinates digital media for the Origins of Doha project. A CV can be downloaded from:



Daniel Eddisford has been a professional field archaeologist for 14 years, and has undertaken excavation around the world. Currently he is the field director for the Origins of Doha project.

A CV can be downloaded from:



“Old” is a new topic in cultural heritage and preservation in Qatar.
In the past four years we have worked on projects that have
investigated archaeological remains from a variety of sites in the
region, and virtually reconstructed these remains, drawing on the
archaeological record and standing buildings in the region. Other
reconstructions in the region include a town that was reconstructed
for a movie and the heart of Doha, Souq Waqif. These reconstructions
did not adhere to the “truth” of the archaeological record, but
elaborated on aesthetic aspects that were important markers of
cultural identity. In 2012-2013, we excavated within a “heritage
house”, a reconstruction performed in 2006, and documented the
differences between an archaeological past and an aestheticized past.
Our paper queries ideas about “truth” in archaeological
reconstructions, both virtual and actual, and the conclusions we can
draw from these truths.



Guida Casella – Re-mediating Adam: Archaeological Storytelling in the Digital Age


PhD student in Digital Media, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, New University of Lisbon.

UT Austin – Portugal program

FCT (Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia) grant bursary SFRH / BD / 51745 / 2011


Heritage interpretation uses different kinds of media to communicate archaeological sites.

Adding up to the traditional formats of museum panels, brochures, dioramas, and audio guides, digital media artifacts like mobile apps, interactive documentaries and video games are becoming increasingly common.  Ubiquitous computing and a new pallet of digital tools available to content producers are allowing the emergence of dynamic storytelling as opposed to the static and linear narratives of print. The number of courses offered in digital media for cultural heritage, academic papers, journals, conferences and commercial launches themselves, reflect innovations in the field. There are great expectations that digital media channels to communicate archaeological knowledge will become the norm. The question one may ask at this moment, is ‘how has visual representation of past societies changed by adopting interactive screens instead of paper?’ and ‘are we just re-mediating old visual canons (Bolter & Grusin, 2000), inherited from biblical illustration (Rudwick, 1992), or history painting (Moser, 1998), or even traditional pen and ink heritage interpretation illustration (Ambrus &Aston, 2009)? Or can we see something new emerging?’ Cyborg, post human like figures (Haraway, 1991) of game avatars could be a hypothesis. We should also question the  performativity of “reading” content.  As the viewer interacts with the communicating artifact, what new modes of representation are needed? This paper will reflect on the opportunities and limitations of interactive platforms to the archaeological interpretation content producers. By doing an online observation, this paper will present a snapshot of the current state of the art, looking at how the past is being visualized in interactive media as in contrast to print media.

AMBRUS, Victor G., and Mike Aston (2009) Recreating the Past. History Press.

BOLTER, Jay David and Richard Grusin (2000) Remediation: Understanding New Media.  Cambridge: MIT Press.

HARAWAY, Donna (1991), Simians, Cyborgs and Women, The reinvention of Nature, London: Routledge.

RUDWICK, Martin (1992) Scenes from Deep Time – Early Pictorial Representations of the Prehistoric World. Chicago and London: The Chicago Unievrsity Press.

MOSER, Stephanie (1998),  Ancestral Images, The Iconography of Human Origins. Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing.

Catriona Cooper – Reinterpreting Bodiam Castle: knowledge creation through visualisation

Archaeological Computing Research Group, University of Southampton & The National Trust


See Organisers Page


As one of the most famous buildings in medieval studies Bodiam Castle has been extensively discussed and debated. Despite its position at the centre of the defence vs. status debate the interior at Bodiam has largely been ignored with much more focus taken on its setting and external appearance. Following a 6 week/ 3 season field school we have undertaken a complete building survey of the Castle which until now has been lacking. This paper will discuss our technique for recording the building using a total station linked using TheoLT to a laptop running AutoCAD allowing the work to be visualised instantaneously on screen as work progresses.  The method for recording has allowed us to comment on the site in reference to building irregularities and the building process. It will also discuss how the results of the survey can then be applied to explore the lived experience of the building through digital media. These techniques have led to an interaction with the site and understanding of the construction of the site that has until now been lacking.

Alexis McBride – Beyond Pretty Pictures: Visualization in Understandings of the Past

University of Liverpool


Alexis McBride completed her PhD at the University of Liverpool in 2012, exploring the physical experience of occupying Near Eastern Neolithic architecture.  She uses digital reconstructions to explore the way space was perceived and constructed in the past.  Alexis is now living in Toronto and examining the physical investment required in the construction of Neolithic stone and mudbrick architecture.


The use of visualization in archaeology has been dominated by the development of tools and technology to produce ever more realistic and detailed images of the past for consumption by archaeologists and the general public.  However, the use of ground breaking technology is not required to contribute to our understandings of the past, with simple methodologies producing very intuitive images to further research agendas.  I demonstrate this through the use of a simple AutoCAD visualization methodology to answer questions concerning how a series of non-domestic structures were used and perceived in the Near Eastern Neolithic.  This methodology uses two and three-dimensional digital reconstructions and representative polygons to explore the physical experience of occupying space in the past, incorporating not only sight but also movement, acoustics, capacity, smell, and construction investment to create a multi-sensual and embodied understanding of the structures.  Using simple visualization methods it is possible to assess how perception functioned in the past, in an intuitive way that creates very engaging scenarios without getting bogged down in endless details that realistic reconstructions require.  This research has shown that the non-domestic structures were very open and undifferentiated, and that participants would have had very similar experiences of events.  These conclusions are based entirely on the reconstruction of the physical experience of occupying these spaces using simple visualization techniques.

Alessandro ZambelliThe Undisciplined Drawing

The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL


Alessandro Zambelli is an architect with his own London based practice.  He is currently researching a PhD in architectural and archaeological drawing practices and transgressions between them.


Architecture is archaeology in reverse.  If architecture looks to the future by making drawn propositions then archaeology designs also [e.g. Shanks 2010, Shanks & Tilley 1992, Olsen, Shanks et al. 2012] but in the form of reconstructions of the past.  In fact, this paper argues that propositional design and reconstruction are simultaneously central to both disciplines; archaeologists have no direct access to the past and so their reconstructions are compelled to be propositional, and that equally, architectural propositions are reconstructive.

If an archaeologist picks up a pen or a pencil and draws, say, the foundation stones of an incomplete building, or an archaeological illustrator sketches into the drawing of a hypothetical settlement a group of figures in period clothes (say animal skins), we might describe these drawings as reconstructions and claim that one of their purposes is to reconstruct once completed artefacts (buildings) or cultures (family groups and their built contexts and practices).  If an architect picks up the same pen or pencil and draws the foundation stones of an incomplete building, or if that architect sketches into the drawing of a hypothetical settlement a group of figures in period clothes (say jeans and tee shirts), then we might describe these as ‘design’ drawings; their purpose to predict, promote or, more precisely, to prophesy [Suess 2010] a non-existent state of affairs.  These two sets of drawings, we are led to believe, have utterly different purposes.  This paper proposes that the opposite is in fact true.

This pair of linked professions are further understood first as disciplined practices nurtured and developed within the constraints of their parent professions, and then through the examination of particular ‘undisciplined’ drawing techniques – both either common to each discipline or abandoned by them – which enable a creative loosening of their respective disciplinary constraints.

Shanks, M. (2010), Michael Shanks: Nine archaeological theses on design

Shanks, M. and Tilley, C. (1992), Re-Constructing archaeology : theory and practice

Olsen, B. Shanks, M. et al. (2012) Archaeology: The Discipline of Things

Suess, E. (2010) Prophecy and Memory: Wavelength as Architectural Drawing

Judith Dobie – Bringing Back the Bodies

English Heritage


Judith Dobie studied at The Glasgow School of Art and has worked since in archaeological illustration with The Department of Ancient Monuments and English Heritage.


The earth at Mucking, an Anglo-Saxon cemetery site in Essex overlooking the estuary of the river Thames is acidic, organic material rarely survives. Bodies are reduced to a shadow in the soil. Sometimes, when this is the case archaeological reports can be austere, lacking colour and human interest, concentrating naturally on the pottery, glass and metal objects which survive. This talk explains how by illustration, the artist and authors, working together, tried to address this imbalance to reconstruct the clothes and appearance and possessions of the vanished people of Mucking.

Turkan Pilavci – Seals Flattened Out: Role of Images in Studying Material Culture

Columbia University


Columbia University

Department of Art History and Archaeology

PhD Candidate


Illustrations of seals in publications and in museum showcases are provided to enhance the information available to the audience, yet such images also alter the way seals are perceived, changing the three dimensionality of the object itself to a two-dimensional imprint on a surface. Thus, the end result of the sealing practice overrides the physicality of the seal, detaching the image from its over all form and materiality. The case study selected to demonstrate this argument is the corpus of seals from the Hittite period, ca. 1650-1200 BC. This paper argues that the illustrations of seals used in the archaeological publications are not represented as works of arts but they are intended to render the reality of what is ontologically there, capturing the objective reality. The immediacy of such image creates the effect of reality, through which the distinction between the ontology and interpretation in archaeological images blurs. The aim of this study is to present how the representations of objects, in this case the Hittite seals, influence the way the viewer / reader perceives their physical presence. The flatness of the illustrations takes prominence over the texture, shape and medium of the seals. The images assume a new reality, divorcing the volume and material of the seal to reduce its meaning to the flat, carved surface which functions in producing a two-dimensional impression.

Aisling Nash – Illustration as Experimental Archaeology: investigating the control and manoeuvrability of Iron Age Chariots.

Swindon College


I am a freelance illustrator and have recently graduated from Oxford Brookes University with a Masters in Archaeological Illustration. I have a particular interest in exploring the use of technical illustrations to assist in establishing archaeological theory and am currently working on a project involving this theme and revolving around Iron Age chariots. I am using AutoCAD and will eventually be using three dimensional modelling to test current theories and establish alternative methods of construction and handling of these iconic features of the Iron Age.


Experimental archaeology has previously involved using physical reconstructions to establish new archaeological theory or to test existing theory. This paper will demonstrate that illustration can be used instead of physical reconstruction to test new ideas.

The question of control and manoeuvrability of Iron Age chariots is a subject that has not received the research interest it deserves during recent years. Caesar writes in admiration of the control the native Britons could exert over their chariots but current reconstructions do not seem to support this premise. In order to question this, Iron Age bits were investigated together with the current method of yoking and technical illustrations were used to determine whether a new theory of harnessing would address the issue of manoeuvrability. Illustration was also used to establish whether a new method of harnessing would have a direct impact on the construction of the chariot.

Peter Bikoulis – Beyond Points and Lines: the social context of social networks

University of Toronto


Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto


Social Network Analysis is fast becoming a popular analytical tool in the study of prehistoric interregional interaction. Primacy is given to the relationships between actors, which are formally represented using the visualization conventions of Graph Theory. Sites are frequently used as the primary actors within many archaeological examples, with the ties connecting them formed through the distribution of shared material culture. However, much of this research has been conducted without explicit theorizing of the mechanisms or institutions that demanded and supported these long distant connections and exchanges. In effect, archaeological examples have relied rather deceptively on the simple visualization of networks, rather than a robust and informed suite of theories about what those connections actually mean; this has resulted in the elision of the social realities of how people in the past may have behaved. Using the site of Ikiztepe as an example, I seek to flesh out a coherent view of the social and economic networks along the late prehistoric Black Sea. The ultimate aim of this paper is to go beyond the simple visualization of archaeological social networks, and to start imagining the social realities behind the points and lines used by archaeologists by embedding those connections within an anthropologically informed framework.

Kelvin Wilson – ‘In The Eye Of The Elders’: The art of perception in archaeological visualisations’

Archaeological Illustrator


Kelvin Wilson is an archaeological reconstruction artist with a long reputation. He has been involved in projects ranging from visualising Tutankhamun’s sparkling wardrobe to that worn by the Balkan’s Iron Age country dwellers, and has worked on prehistoric dolmen high up in the mountains of the Russian Caucausus to the riverside palaces occupied by Europe’s medieval royalty.



When in 79 violent earthtremors made clear something big was about to happen to Mount Vesusius, and people were very excited, Pliny the Younger took to reading a book- and looked away. 

It is a rather mundane reminder that despite the overview we have of life past, it was lived by wholly different concerns, some lost to us, some for which we need to imaginatively place ourselves there. There lies a task here for the modern artist’s perception of data, to determine and recreate what the ancient eye might have actually beheld.

A landscape, for instance, may be read many ways from paper, yet a tree, a patch of trees, or simply the fact that we don’t have eyes in the back of our heads, will lend heavily into the human experience of its scale. A building can be reconstructed in every aspect of its design, yet an erstwhile visitor could have only ever had one perspective- a building’s interior determined by its walled rooms, its exterior too often by the weather, and a person never under the spell of both at the same time. An ancient craftsman in his ill-lit workplace needed only to concentrate on what lay before him, or where to sit to eat his sparse meals- with little interest in questioning the social organisation of his environment. And a Roman visiting his local bathhouse would need to know where to store his clothes, hope to find a seat in the crowded steam room, and be able to find a sponge- and not at all ponder the mechanics of the floors and drains as a presentday archaeologist might do first.

This paper will showcase some discrepancies between archaeologists’ research, ‘read like a plan’, and what they therefore choose to have told, and how visual artists show it to have been experienced, one moment at a time. Sometimes the art of imagination has a profound, yes, even sobering effect on the science underlying it.

Ashley M. Richter et al. – Expanding Layered Realities: Cognitive Annotated Imaging Systems for Accurate Archaeological Visualizations and Augmentations of Space and Time in 3D Immersive Virtual and Physical Environments for Collaborative Research and Public Dissemination

Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture, and Archaeology

(CISA3), California Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technology

(Calit2), University of California, San Diego


Vid Petrovic, David Vanoni, Tom Wypych, John Mangan, Joe De Blasio, James M. Darling, Shelby Cohantz, Falko Keuster, & Thomas E. Levy


With current technology and networking capacity, archaeological visualization needs to take center stage within the discipline, not only for the cross-reference-able, accessible archive it could create for preservation purposes, but for its ability to make the past more transparently accessible and relevant to contemporary and future societies as an omnipresent, interactive feature within their own temporal space. At the Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture, and Archaeology (CISA3) at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (CaliT2) at the University of California, San Diego new systems are being developed to streamline the scientific and replicable data collection, processing, and auto-publishing of archaeological data for use in dynamic visualization environments and out in the real world. Our system utilizes a series of integrated diagnostic imaging systems (terrestrial LiDAR, drone aerial photography, multispectral imaging, panoscan, gigapan CAVEcams, etc) to collect visual data which creates the framework for a tapestried, raw point data scaffold. The combined visualization data is displayed in our immersive 3DCave environments for which we are building a cognitively minded annotation interface to display layers reflective of all levels of data collection and analysis for visual collaboration. The system created for the Caves is mirrored in a linked augmented reality application for cultural heritage data known as ARtifact- which can display the same explore-able layers of annotation and visualization available in our labs via Android tablets and phones on archaeological sites and at cultural heritage monuments. Archaeological visualization in our system is intended to be phenomenologically realized on several stratum, creating collaborative research space out in the real world which embraces public input, as well as enhancing the potentiality of shareable visual analytics in our research labs.


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