Archaeology

Votive Offering 3, Oughtmama, Co. Clare

One of three hand carved stones found at St Colmán’s Well (Tobar Cholmáin). The well is part of the monastic landscape of Oughtmama, a small monastic site located in a valley above Turlough Hill in the Burren, Co. Clare. The stones were presented to the museum by Rev. O’Doherty, Lord Bishop of Galway.

Original data capture was undertaken at the National Science Museum, St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth in November 2016, under the direction of Dr. Konstantinos Papadopoulos. Access was granted by museum curator Dr. Niall McKeith.

This model was created using photogrammetry as part of AFF622 Virtual Heritage module at An Foras Feasa Maynooth.

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Democratising Datasets: Digital Replication and Aura

crawfordgallerycasts

Despite the process of digitisation and replication providing non-invasive alternative to artefact assessment and by proxy democratizing the datasets, the digitisation process has not been uniformly adopted as an alternative to traditionalist models of curation and representation. This reluctance seems to be caught up with the issue of authenticity and the lack of ‘aura’ surrounding the digital.

The replication process, that is to say, creating a copy of an object/feature that is indistinguishable from the original, is by no means a new practice in the field of heritage. Before digital applications facilitated the proliferation of replicas of archaeological monuments and artefacts, we relied instead on plaster casts to create ‘reproductions, facsimiles, or occasionally models,’ for museums and art galleries.  This ‘substantial enterprise’ as Foster and Curtis describe it (2016, 123) was established for ‘observation, education, handling, documentation, presentation and art training’. By the 19th century however, changing attitudes to authenticity largely meant that the use and display of replicas fell out of favour leading to facsimiles occupying a type of ‘curatorial purgatory’ (ibid. 126). An assessment of international conservation charters by Bell (1997) further augmented this disdain for the replica process within curatorial spaces by asserting the process was carried out with the intention of deceiving the observer. This loaded assertion is intrinsically linked with the idea of aura and authenticity where artefacts are concerned, and the narrative they create in museums.

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Plaster cast of ‘Lacoon and His sons’ taken from the Roman copy in the Vatican. Currently on display in the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork.

The function of the exhibition is to communicate a sense of place and to illicit a response from the viewer, leading from the premise that the individual wants to be engaged by the ‘real’ object to fully connect with it. Many specialists in the field therefore feel that the intangible object lacks agency and an overall aura; that a digital object or a replica of any description cannot communicate a given narrative or establish a connection. However, this idea of aura to me is an entirely subjective process and open to considerable debate. Hazan (2001) emphasizes for example how “sometimes precious, sometimes mundane objects are modified in the exhibition context where they go through a process of museumification, extracted from different locations and placed on a spotlighted pedestal, or isolated in a glass cage”. Any ex situ object (whether art historical or archaeological) within a museum space is therefore re-conceptualised and re-contextualised to conform to a given (and not always honest) narrative.

The subjective nature of ‘auratic quality’ as Jeffrey describes it (2015, 144/145 etc.)  can be best explained using The Stone Corridor in University College Cork. This is a corridor that contains a number of ex situ Ogham Stones from counties Cork and Waterford collected from 1861-1945.  When I conceive of an ogham stone, I see it demarcating the boundaries of interlocking field systems. When I encounter this collection, I do not experience the auratic quality or authenticity linked to the object as their narrative has been deconstructed and reorganized in a clinical space. Ogham stones are monuments that were built into an ever expanding historical landscape. To remove them from that landscape is to undermine the agency of the object. This is a subjective experience and doesn’t preclude the public’s enjoyment or connection with the object independently of my own.

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The Stone Corridor, Ken Williams 2010

Fundamentally, all museums represent a curatorial purgatory, filled with objects that have lost their narrative and their true ‘aura’. That is why I believe it is important to move beyond that concept when considering the potential that digital tools have in heritage institutions and curated spaces. In the 1930’s Benjamin saw this separation of object and aura as a liberating phenomenon that ‘emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual’. The democratization that digitisation affords to me far outweighs the conceptualization of aura, which keeps museum, archival and archaeological practices authoritarian and stagnant.

 

 

 

Bibliography

Foster, S.M. & Curtis, N.W.G. (2016) The Thing About Replicas – Why Historic Replicas Matter. European Journal of Archaeology 19 (1) 122-148.

Hazan, S. (2001) The Virtual Aura – Is there Space for Enchantment in a Technological World? Museums and the Web Conference 2001.

http://www.museumsandtheweb.com/mw2001/papers/hazan/hazan.html#ixzz4OIV0Dalm    <Accessed 20.10.16>

Jeffrey, S. (2015) Challenging Heritage Visualisation: Beauty, Aura and Democratisation. Open Archaeology (1) 144-152.

Kibuspuu, L. (NA) Peopling the Heritage: To what extent is democratization of built heritage management possible and desirable? http://www.ainova.sk/files/file/BHCD%20Peopling%20the%20Heritage.pdf <Accessed 21-10-16>

The Stone Corridor Photographic Credit : Ken Williams 2010

Corn-Drying Kiln Demonstration

I will have the pleasure of joining one of Ireland’s leading archaeobotanists (and EAI committee member), Susan Lyons to present on the topic of corn-drying kilns in Ireland as part of Transport Infrastructure Ireland’s programme of events for Heritage Week. This event will also include a demonstration on the function of the corn-drying kiln using the reconstructed example at The Irish National Heritage Park in Ferrycarrig, Co. Wexford.

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Corn-drying kilns have garnered widespread attention from archaeologists, folklorists and historians alike because of their prevalence in the Irish agricultural landscape. These features have appeared in the archaeological record from as far back as the Late Iron age and survived in local traditions right up until near recent times where they were used in the illicit production of poitín (alcohol). By studying the macro-botanical remains (charred cereal grains and chaff and wood charcoal) that are often found in these excavated features, we can tell a lot about fuel selection and landscape management, diet, seasonality, and harvesting and processing activities carried out in and around the site. Through the assessment of these remains we can also see chronological and spatial variations in cereal selection which can in turn help us to validate historical sources available for certain time periods also.

Ferrycarrig is of great significance to corn-drying kiln technology as it is the  site of experimental works carried out by Kelleher, who through her MPhil research, established a baseline for the understanding of the functionality of the kiln as a drier. Her extensive research was very instructive in my own research and I am very much looking forward to being on site for the day.

I don’t know how we are going to fit everything we know and love about them into an hour but we will try our very best. If you are free on the 21st of August, we hope you can drop by and see the reconstructed kiln in action and learn a bit more about Medieval and Iron Age farming practices and diet.

For more information about the Irish National Heritage Park visit their website, or social media accounts : Facebook and Twitter. Thank you also to Kelly Bernice for providing the photographs of the reconstructed corn-drying kiln at Ferrycarrig, Co. Wexford.

The Leica Distancemeter

I spent some of today trying to survey a complicated floor plan in Cork City. I would usually employ the traditional measuring tape in this process however today my eyes were opened!

Ladies and gentlemen I give you the Leica DISTO D210. A neat little laser distance meter that can be used for assessing structures and spaces on construction sites but also (in this case) on archaeological building surveys.

The Leica DISTO D210 Laser Distancemeter

The Leica DISTO D210 Laser Distancemeter

The accuracy of the D210 is dependent on light conditions and reflectivity but I have to say even I was amazed by the precision of this tool and the distance I was able to measure with it. The minimum it could travel within the space available for assessment was approximately 28m with limited locational visibility. According to the company specifications, this entry level model can record a distance of 80m but I have yet to find a space to test this in. It’s quite ergonomic and gives you the option of measuring from the base of the device or from the top which was so efficient for the area I was working with.

I honestly shouldn’t be surprised as I have used a number of Leica brand products in archaeobotanical assessments (microscopes, lightboxes etc.) over the years and beyond of course the (justifiable) costs they set for their products, I have yet to find something to complain about.

I personally don’t know how well it works in daylight yet but I intend to have a bit more fun with this tomorrow morning. If you see a crazy lady running around campus at any stage pointing at random objects with a glorified laser pointer you know the score.

I would also note that my estimated timeframe for surveying the general area was 30 minutes with a measuring tape. Using this little tool I managed to produce an unexpectedly detailed floor plan in less than 2 hours. I shudder to think how long it would have taken me using my traditional method.

http://www.leica-geosystems.com/en/Leica-DISTO-D210_98412.htm

http://www.leica-geosystems.com/flipbook/disto/en/index.html#/26/