Explaining Archaeological 3D Visualisations from the perspectives of Polyrepresentation and Boundary Objects

Submitted by Isto Huvila on Tue, 12/05/2017 - 10:27

Presentation at the Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA) 2018 conference in Tübingen.


Since their advent, two central challenges of working with archaeological 3D visualisations have been partly to provide hard evidence of their purported capability to contribute to archaeological interpretation and reasoning instead of functioning merely as pretty pictures, and partly, how to visualise uncertainties and conflicting interpretations instead of giving an impression of one authoritative truth. In contrast to the archaeological literature, in non-archaeological contexts, there is a large corpus of empirical and theoretical research on the collaborative and roles of various types of visualisations: both on their capabilities to make visible conflicting and dissimilar perspectives and interpretations, and their social role in the processes of negotiating and resolving indifferences.

This presentation is based on an ethnographic observation study of an archaeological fieldwork project. During this particular field project, the participating archaeologists produced 3D visualisations of the excavated stratum directly in the field and used them as interpretative and communicative aids in their work in close-to-real-time. Referring to Ingwersen's theory of polyrepresentation and the notion of boundary objects coined by Star, this presentation discusses whether, when and how archaeological 3D visualisations are polyrepresentative (whether they can incorporate several perspectives and arguments), and whether, when and how they function as boundary objects ('things' that translate understanding between different bordering communities). The findings show that the both notions are useful in explicating how the visualisations functioned in the studied contexts and how these insights can be useful in explicating the functioning of visualisations in other contexts of archaeological work.

Keywords: archaeology, 3D, visualisations, boundary objects, polyrepresentation

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