Review of Capturing the Senses: digital methods for sensory archaeologies

Posted on behalf of Giacomo Landeschi.

On 1st and 2nd June 2017 the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at Lund University hosted an international symposium titled ‘Capturing the Senses: digital methods for sensory archaeologies’, organised by Giacomo Landeschi (Lund University) and Eleanor Betts (Open University).

The aim of this meeting was to raise a discussion on the latest advances in digital methods applied to archaeological research, and to investigate innovative methods to stimulate a sensory perception of ancient space.

19 invited speakers from 10 different countries all over the world had the opportunity to present their own case studies, to discuss with each other the way digital technologies are impacting archaeological practice. In particular, the main focus was to try to understand how digital methods can be employed effectively to capture the social significance of ancient space through a multisensory perspective. Indeed, sight, hearing, but also smell, touch and taste, can be considered as proxies to better understand how ancient space was structured and organised.

Among the presented case studies, some were focused on acoustic analysis applied to ancient spaces. Jeff Veitch from the University of Kent presented an acoustic model for examining the properties connected to the urban environment of ancient Ostia. A combined audio-visual examination was instead the focus of Sebastian Schwesinger, Erika Holter and their research team from Humboldt University Berlin, which analysed the Roman Forum in Rome and the Pnyx in Athens. Shawn Graham (@electricarchaeo) demonstrated his sonification of archaeological data, and how sound can provide a new perspective which frees us from a reliance on visualisation. A more synesthetic approach was presented by Stuart Eve from L-P Archaeology, who investigated the possibility to simulate the full sensorium through a ‘mixed reality’ application, where the user was expected to have a sensorial experience embodied in the original space where it took place. Anna Foka and Claudia Sciuto showcased two VR projects which include collaboration with Humlab, Umeå University. Eleni Bozia presented elements of her Digital Epigraphy and Archaeology project to demonstrate how 3D modelling can make inscriptions and artefacts more accessible to researchers and students.


During the second day of the symposium, more sessions were dedicated to the visual perception of space and the way digital methods can help in ‘mapping’ in a multiscale perspective such a perception in order to define the relevance certain places had in the landscape, or the symbolic significance that certain categories of objects had in the virtually-recosntructed space of an ancient building. Hanna Stöger (Leiden) presented the work of her Masters student Lars Schaarman on the contribution fractal theory can make to our understanding of the use of streets in unplanned cities or urban areas. Eleftheria Paliou, from the University of Cologne, discussed theoretical and methodological implications in performing visual analysis in a full 3D environment. Mark Gillings (University of Leicester) demonstrated how if we approach GIS as an assemblage with agency we can make more creative use of viewsheds, using GIS to map and analyse not only well defined landscape blocks (such as in-view and out-of-view) but also the slippery, indeterminate places that exist betwixt and between. Cristina Corsi took us on a journey along the roads of Roman Italy, to demonstrate how digital technologies may contribute to understanding the processes of navigation, mapping and landscape perception. The focus of the presentation by Marinella Pasquinucci and Giacomo Landeschi was also a journey, that of Claudius Rutilius Namatianus, and how GIS may be combined with classical literature to arrive at new understandings. Frank Vermeulen reminded us of the importance of contextualising 3D models of Roman towns within their wider landscape, using the Potenza Valley project as an example. Chiara Piccoli emphasised the need to create 3D models with different hypotheses which remind us of the uncertainties in our data and emphasise intellectual transparency. Mar Zamora from Universidad Autónoma de Madrid presented the use of viewshed analysis for assessing the perception of cities in Roman Hispania.

The final session was dedicated to the study of light and illumination effects in virtually-reconstructed environments. Danilo Campanaro (Lund) introduced his PhD project on the use and effects of light in Pompeian houses, whilst Costas Papadopoulos, from Maynooth University, presented issues of data accuracy, transparency and authenticity in lighting simulation, and the way it can be used to improve the interpretation of past built spaces.

Many of the presentations were dedicated to theoretical and methodological concerns on introducing a sensory perspective in digital archaeology and the symposium proved to be a positive opportunity for everyone to understand the current state-of-the-art digital tools, and to explore novel ways to approach a single problem they have been focusing on in the course of a research project. Thanks to the precious collaboration of Nicolò Dell’Unto, coordinator of the Digital Archaeology Lab in Lund (DARK Lab), and Stefan Lindgren and Carolina Larsson from Humanities Lab (HumLab), several ongoing research projects and demonstrations were presented to showcase current research activity at Lund University. We look forward to developing the group, and to future collaborations in digital sensory archaeologies.


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