Wittur, Joyce: Computer-Generated 3d-Visualisations in Archaeology Between added value and deception. xviii+276 pages; illustrated throughout; with CD; ISBN 9781407310718. £45.00
(Archaeopress, Oxford 2013)
Compte rendu par Ilona Skupinska-Lovset, University of Lodz, Poland

Nombre de mots : 775 mots
Publié en ligne le 2015-01-20
Citation: Histara les comptes rendus (ISSN 2100-0700).
Lien: http://histara.sorbonne.fr/cr.php?cr=1901
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          The subtitle of this thorough and erudite work puts things very well “Between added value and deception”, and Dr Wittur succeeds in the difficult task of preserving a balance between the two. In order to cover a wide range of topics within the field of European archaeology she discusses a Neolithic hillfort near Avebury in Wiltshire; a Mediaeval church in Belgium; and an insula in Pompeii, as well as dealing with ethics, shapes and modelling, all in all quite competently.


         The book was submitted as a Heidelberg doctoral dissertation and as such is full of detailed research. It is in turn based on the author’s MA research and on her experience as a tourist guide and education officer at Lorsch Abbey, where a virtual reconstruction is on public display. She thus looks at virtual reconstruction in archaeology both with the eyes of a creator and as a consumer. Such a position enriches her reflections.


         The author draws attention to ethical questions, presented as moral norms. These are discussed from the point of view of the quality of a moral standpoint (or the lack of such) on the side of the suppliers of computer generated reconstructions. A failure to obey such moral rules may lead to the deception of users, of the general public. Visitors, she stresses, are rarely qualified to judge the origin of their deception that might be hidden in such visual material.


         The fear of misleading the observer with technically perfect images is discussed in the context of perception and cognitive theory (p. 47 ff.), where dishonest procedures are also discussed. The question of “real and restored” is briefly presented in the chapter “Photo-realism or non-photorealistic rendering” which in turn directs the reader to a chapter entitled “Cognitive theory”. The introduction serves the purpose of a “summing-up”, drawing attention to problems but not discussing them any depth (though there are useful references to relevant literature).


         “Pompeii, Insula IX.8” is the result of a joint undertaking: the “MUSE” and the “Pompeii-Insula del Centenario” projects, both of which aim for the preservation and documentation of the remains of the past.  In presenting “Pompeii, Insula IX.8” it is stressed that the term “philological approach” can be understood as being practically equivalent to “applied ethical”, the term used by Joyce Wittur in the present book.


         The author touches on the question as to whether virtual models can be authentic or objective, or whether they are by their very nature deceptive. This discussion remains in the field of an account of “the power of images” as opposed to a description of the reality. Most texts explicitly refer to virtual reality (VR).  The author notes that ethical and/or theoretical questions are rarely touched upon among scholars who use computer generated reconstructions in their work. Moreover, she is of the opinion that many scholars are “completely unaware that such issues exist” (p. 16).


         Since the first models in an archaeological context were created in the early 1980s, efforts have been directed into overcoming technical problems, not the problem of comprehension. The author stresses the need to inform the lay public that models are not a true representation of a past reality but simply one of a number possible ways of presenting it. Models can only be understood as simulations of the real world based on assumptions.


         The interaction between visitors and a cultural heritage project is generally seen as necessary. In the future “smart museums”, IT infrastructure and services will increase interaction between multilingual European citizens and cultural heritage objects, supposes the author.


         Globally, the book is very rich in detail, which at times obscures the clarity of the discourse. However, by the end of the book the reader discovers that she or he has learnt more than expected; and that the technical possibilities in exhibiting are constantly being broadened. This has caused the author to dwell on questions not only associated with the increasing possibilities of visualization, but also with ethics, as well as with cooperation between various disciplines. The book is supplied with a rich bibliography and has a PDF version on  CD-ROM. This has links marked in two colours; links within the document in blue, external links in magenta, all to make reading easier.


         The work only deals with selected European sites and objects, and all the discussions are in European terms; work on these issues in the United States and Canada is considered beyond the scope of this thesis. The concluding Chapter 11 states (p. 255) that although the number of different models and perceptions is insurmountable, Dr Wittur’s optimistic conclusion is that “by adhering to applied ethical issues, quality assurance for virtual models can be accomplished”. The present reviewer can recommend this work.