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Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 12.1 (1999) 134-136
Fighting with Pictures: The Archaeology of Reconstructions
Brian Leigh Molyneaux
Archaeology Laboratory, University of South Dakota, 414 East Clark Street, Vermillion, SD 57069, USA
In my outsider’s view of this fragment of Aegean prehistory, the issue in Klynne’s spirited polemic is not the disputed material evidence at Knossos, but the visual representations of the structure popularly known as ‘the palace at Knossos’ (‘Reconstruction of Knossos: artists’ impressions, archaeological evidence and wishful thinking’, JMA 11 : 202-29). It is certainly archaeology’s job to sort out these curious remains, but we cannot resolve Klynne’s central problem— working out the ‘true appearance’ of a Minoan palace. The object of our interest, a changeable thing that once occupied a living time and space, is no more. And the material remains that survive, while giving us clues to the shape of this past, are forever up-to-date, trapped in our unfolding, subjective present. I wish to direct my comments, therefore, to the use of representational models as forms of knowledge. When analysts and artists construct pictures or models from archaeological evidence, they situate their own experience, creating material settings for their ideas and material goods for our consumption. Our looking at these images in an academic setting is a sort of institutionalized spectatorship. As Fleck, Rudwick, Bradley, Moser and others in the past half-century have shown, such images end up as artifacts of our own intellectual past, visually obsolete, yet persistently visible and, so, inﬂuential. In the spirit of these analysts,
Klynne skillfully exposes the biases and hidden agendas that shaped existing reconstructions and, he concedes, shapes his own. More importantly, however, he attempts to free what he obviously perceives as a Knossos trapped within a stuffy and outworn Kuhnian paradigm. Klynne proposes to revitalize Knossian scholarship by reducing the authority of individual models. Crucial to his argument is the missing dynamic in any traditional visual representation—time. An architectural model conveys the illusion of the moment, when, in actuality, it is (or will be) a cumulation of acts of construction, occupation, demolition and decay. Consider the better-preserved icon called Stonehenge, a partly re-erected structure in its ﬁnal functional state. The thing we now circle, like punters around a paddock, is real, but it is no less an intellectual construct than Knossos, bearing an uncertain relationship to the henge of old. Life at Knossos and Stonehenge in fact derives from the continuous natural spectacle that monumental artifacts present and the words they inevitably inspire. Klynne wants us to avoid this monolithic effect by treating such reconstructions not as ‘ “biblia pauperum”, but rather as active parts of the scientiﬁc discourse’. And he suggests that this new discourse take place in the interactive, anarchic environment of the Internet. While he offers only a vague impression of
We see through the eyes of an avatar. but I do not agree that it will challenge ‘the cognitive authority of linguistic representation’. testing their own hypotheses using ephemeral. It may be the postmodern imagist’s ideal world. or create overlays of the competing versions. at least. the three-dimensional virtual reality world. Klynne hints at a future more interesting than yet another analyst telling others what to see in a picture. scan open spaces. rather than wasting time with the fait accompli of the published picture. the picture in the book really is a window into a new world! In comparison. even with its attractive production values in the intellectual marketplace. support or object. they allow no single point of view. discovering what we have also created. I am running ahead of Klynne’s proposal. meant for the walls of museums. . pieces and fully built models. the illusion of stasis is gone. with free and open access. We can peer around 135 corners. In a virtual reality model of a Minoan building. simplistic. I agree with Klynne that this new process will revitalize the study of Knossos. as we experience the proprioceptive movements of the avatar walking through a faux Pompeii. Although the model is highly simpliﬁed. irretrievable past. for now. engineers have used these techniques to account for human factors in the design of complex environments. Here the authority that publication confers on a representation (salience. and analysts can add. Is it also the end of the intellectual authority of the two-dimensional image? Before the digital age. a picture seemed just like the view through a window. or ﬂy slightly behind it. the traditional barrier between insiders and outsiders will break down. permanence) is ended. the ‘picture as argument’ approach has an analyst arguing for a picture that is helplessly mute. It can appear on the website in days. most signiﬁcantly. the use of an avatar transforms analysis from a discourse of fact and position to one of process and relation. and see—experience—the height of a dais. no irrefutable fact outside the logical structure of the program and its computer environment. change or delete them as the situation suggests. opaque. No longer will new information take months. the scale of a room. in the end. they may substitute more easily for the unknown. no immutable position. The thousand blossoming computer-aided reconstructions he hopes for will still require voices. legitimacy. Even though the geometrics of present VR constructs are. to reality. Beyond the paper-bound illustration and beyond Klynne’s electronic image bank is Knossos. shapes and through time as if we were actually there. or even years. or the placement of columns or doorways. In the architecture of a VRML (virtual reality modelling language) structure. traditional two-dimensional images seem blunted. and move through the hypothetical structure at will. Knossos or Lascaux. But now. however unwarranted. For at least a decade. Yet. A GIS (geographical information system) specialist can colour-code the various parts of the structure as to the level of conﬁdence analysts have in their form and articulation. The impact of computer visualization on the interpretation of space is considerable. The strength of this illusion is so great that we cannot help having new expectations for analytical models. it is important to remember that we are. A Knossos website can bring together all the contending parts. This is where Klynne and other illustrators and model builders should be. with better understanding—or. to surface. unable to claim. Fortunately. And. we can ﬁll in the blanks. we sense the optical ﬂow across surfaces. After all. as we see most cleverly in the computer adventure games Myst and Riven. As they seem closer to our own lived-in world. freewheeling debate—as a result. virtual experience. with a claim.16 Q-Molyneaux 6/11/01 4:01 pm Page 135 Fighting with Pictures this new forum in his concluding remarks.
best model of Knossos. surveyed and excavated across Canada and in the northern United States. Emerging from and generating discourse. metaphor and situation. Royal Ontario Museum. His research interests include prehistoric art. But this is not the epistemology of the computer environment. proxemics. than it does in a place that has unalterably changed. E-mail address: moly@usd. Brown. He has recorded rock art. He is the author of The Sacred Earth (Boston: Little. then a single model can sufﬁce. despite all efforts to recapture the ‘true appearance’ of Minoan palaces. an imaginative Knossos will have to sufﬁce. image perception and analysis. and coeditor (with Peter Stone) of The Presented Past (London: Routledge. in paper or digital form. Will the work of a thousand analysts generate it? Klynne’s vision makes sense. and Research Associate. where everything is analog. concepts of place. Wyoming. and human/ computer interactions. Indeed. Klynne’s real problem—archaeology’s problem—is that once the images of our personal intellectual . Brown 1997). About the Author Brian Leigh Molyneaux received his PhD in Archaeology from Southampton University in 1991. perhaps. its architects)’? If this is so.edu He remains necessarily bound by the constraints of professional discourse and by the limitations of serious publication to the printed page. 1992). since he also maintains that such constructions are subjective. they reinforce ways of seeing and thinking that take us far from the stony ground to which they relate. and is now Director of the Archaeology Laboratory. It is an archaeologist’s job to nail things down. 1997). his current project is the archaeology of Devils Tower National Monument. Toronto. to get at the facts. co-author (with Larry Zimmerman) of Native North America (Boston: Little. editor of The Cultural Life of Images (London: Routledge. But he has a way out. in a properly illusionistic setting. Some readers will think it illogical that Klynne advances a model for which we can have little conﬁdence. 1995). While he advances his version to fuel the debate. however. he seems to believe that there is actually a single. Why else would he invoke the old art-historical belief that architecture in some way embodies and reﬂects ‘the virtues or ideals of a people (or. they have a life of their own.16 Q-Molyneaux 6/11/01 4:01 pm Page 136 136 Molyneaux satisfaction are in the information environment. Perhaps the past will sit better there. in our traditional intellectual environment. University of South Dakota.
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