Institute of Archaeology



Archaeology and the camera truelle: theorising archaeology through the moving image | Wed Dec 18 09:30:00 | Clarke Hall (Level 3)

By 2022, it is predicted that video will account for 82% of global internet provider traffic (CISCO 2019). In other words, the moving image is set to become humanity’s dominant form of internet communication. Is archaeology ready for this? Archaeologists have embraced filmmaking as a form of recording, reporting, and promoting their work since at least the 1910s, and today, social media abounds in archaeologist-made videos that promote or report archaeological work and values. But can we use filmmaking practices (including videography and animation) to dig deeper than functioning merely as an illustration, record, or PR? Artists, documentary filmmakers, anthropologists, and journalists have long used the medium of filmmaking to ask and answer complex questions about the world in ways the still image and the written word cannot. Borrowing Piccini’s concept of the camera truelle (‘camera trowel’, based on Astruc’s concept of the camera-stylo, or ‘camera-pen’, Astruc 1948, in Piccini 2015: 2), we suggest that for archaeology to make the most of video communications in the 21st century, archaeologists must learn to ‘write’ with the moving image.This session invites archaeologists and aligned heritage and media practitioners to discuss, screen, and share film, video, or animation works (completed or in-production) that actively use the medium of the moving image to generate and construct archaeological knowledge and theories. Speakers are also invited to develop their presentations into articles as part of a planned edited volume on the subject.

Keywords: film, video, animation, recording, drones, underwater filming, ethnographic film, CGI, 3D modelling, film archives, online platforms, databases, social media, live streaming, research design, film theory, media theory, archaeology theory.

Cisco Systems Inc. (2019) Cisco Visual Networking Index: Forecast and trends, 2017-2022. White paper. Available at: https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/collateral/service-provider/visu...
Piccini, A. (2015) ‘Forum: Media Archaeologies: An invitation’, Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, 2 (1), pp. 1-8.

Session timetable
9:30 | Session organisers


9:35 | Tessa Poller, University of Glasgow

Re-living Time Past – Capturing Moments of Creation

I naively took up the camera during an excavation I was directing in 2014. It was already seven years into an established archaeological project.As I reflected on my work, the more I wanted – needed - to explore what influenced my interpretations and, specifically, I wanted to delve into the unacknowledged ambiguity that seemed to surround me (Gero 2007). I attempted this from two directions. One was through a collaboration with digital artists to produce an app to engage others in the process of archaeological interpretation (Poller et al 2016).The other direction was a personal journey with the camera.This was an opportunity for me to look from another angle at the unconscious actions and unremembered events which are vital to the creation of interpretation.Although I was inspired by reflexive post-processual approaches, I did not employ a strict methodology.I felt free to be experimental. The standard recording practices I had constantly used and taught to students were no longer engaging me and the camera provided a source of creativity.Archaeological interpretation is creative, but the means in which we acknowledge and engage with this creative process is constrained by our standardised methods of practice (Perry 2018).This paper reflects my journey through the camera lens; employing different techniques, confronting challenges in expressing ambiguity, questioning standard practices in archaeological recording, and becoming increasingly inspired to extend my experiments with motion and different media to express the messiness of archaeological interpretation.

Gero, J. 2007 ‘Honoring Ambiguity/Problematizing Certitude’, Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 14(3):311-327.
Perry, S. 2018. What does it mean to do good interpretation? Sara Perry blog, 10 September 2018, Cambridge Core blog, viewed October 2018. http://blog.journals.cambridge.org/2018/09/10/what-does-it-mean-to-do-go...).
Poller, T, Watterson, A, Baxter, K, Anderson, J, and Duncan, K. 2016. 'Designing Digital Engagements: The SERF Hillforts Project'. http://www.seriousanimation.com/hillforts/

9:53 | Jennifer Beamer, University of Leicester

Reconnecting Archaeological Textiles: Integrating Visual Media

Visualizing the doing of archaeology can have an astounding impact on society, if the success of Time Team is to serve as an indication. The episodic nature of the show and its presence on a viewing platform like YouTube has increased its binge-worthiness to countless demographics across the globe. The filmography of the show and accessibility that YouTube offers creates a powerful tool that generates interest, awareness, and passion, years after the final episode aired.

Ancient textiles and the prehistoric societies that produced them have been researched by a small group of niche specialists. Academic paywalls often deter hobbyists from accessing the scholarship of those experts. YouTube, owned by Google, is the largest search engine for videos in the world (Wagner, 2017). The case study presented in this paper reflects on the break-up between the study of textiles and production, and craft tradition and hobbyists through the lens of a content creator. Archaeologists are well aware of the impact changing technologies had on past societies, even with the partial picture of the archaeological record. Content creators are influencers and have a potent ability to drive social interests. Interesting educational videos that adapt to the ways people engage with the world in 2019 is one way to reconnect academics and crafters, and one which re-solidifies this long, disassociated relationship.

Wagner, A. (2017) ‘Are you maximizing the use of video in your content marketing strategy?’ Forbes 15 May. Available at:https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2017/05/15/are-you-maxi...(Accessed: 2 September 2019).

10:11 | Dr Chloe N. Duckworth, Newcastle University

Is the lens mightier than the pen?

Looking through the lens at experimental archaeology is forcing me to think in a different way to note-taking. Perhaps it is more emic. Perhaps it is simply the benefit of tackling the problem from a different angle.

Recently, my research team has been reconstructing medieval craft ‘recipes’ for glassmaking. This is tricky, because we know that the written word is a poor medium through which to report craft practice, and yet, having finally unpicked what a recipe may be trying to tell us, we will carefully reassemble these results into a ‘REFable’ text. The next researcher will be faced with not one, but two inaccessible sets of words and diagrams to decode into an idea of craft practice.

Recently, I have begun to film the work we do, capturing the experiential sides of experimental archaeology, from the practiced movements of a craftsperson’s hands, to one student’s surprise at how his recreation of medieval glassmaking struck him as an alchemical, transformative act.

Academics are dismissive of film’s brevity and omissions, and yet we allow all sorts of omissions from text. A text simply cannot convey the busy-ness of a reconstruction Roman glass workshop, for example, but plonking yourself in the middle of one with a camera and capturing the legs running past you certainly does so. We miss a trick by failing to harness this medium more effectively within the formal, academic discipline (with the possible exception of ethnographic films). I’d like to consider what might happen if we shift focus.

10:29 | Annika Larsson (in collaboration with Mohammed Haji Younes), Uppsala University and Research Lab at University of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm

Art (e) Facts: Objects as Subjects in Archaeological Research and Presentation

Humanistic/social science is traditionally based on mainly theoretical contexts for both analysis and reporting of results. However, text presentations rarely reach out for further dialogue - neither to researchers nor to a general public - not even to basic education. Art practicing researchers have the privilege of seeing alternative research methods and supplementary problem solutions. Documentary film- making is an alternative form for both research and presentation - an art form that can question, explain and influence. Documentary film is based on realistic events, in the present project by letting objects occupy the subject's room and story. Norm-analytic research and presentation methods involve scientifically based approaches that deconstruct and analyse norms as social construction in time and space.

On the basis of a norm-analytical model archaeological objects are not only judged on the basis of manifest descriptions, but are also activated as subjects that can tell about intangible values beyond our own cultural understanding. Our preliminary results show that manifest expressions can be dynamic and allow changes while latent content should be static, if a story will last over time and space. In a comparative study of two film animations about Ronja Rövardotter (Astrid Lindgren) we can as an example show that the social status of the robbers, reflected through the attire, is shifted from an original social underclass to a Viking Age elite environment. In a fairy tale this may happen, but when norm shifting takes place within cultural-historical research the entire knowledge society is affected (Larsson & Lind 2019).

10:47 | BREAK
11:07 | Colin Seymour, University College London

Reading between the lines: Interpreting ancient murals at Belsay Castle using video and a semiotically informed analysis of heraldry

BelsayCastle, thought to date from the late 14th century, is a peel tower located in Northumberland. Adjoining the Castle are the ruins of an extension built by Thomas Middletonand his wife in 1614. The estate also features a 19th century hall and other buildings. After passing through a large quarry garden, visitors can access the castle. Situated on the walls of the great chamber, are the remains of ‘ancient mural paintings’ from the 15th century. The ‘frescos’ are in two parts and form upper and lower schemes. The upper scheme features ‘a rare naval scene’, which has been researched by the Conservation Studio, in conjunction with the Courtauld Institute. The lower scheme details tree trunks, with branches and visible roots. Shields with coats of arms hang from the branches of certain trees. This article suggests that semiotics and video can assist in deciphering the hidden codes behind the murals. As such, it sheds light on those who lived at Belsay and who were also intimately connected with the place.

Blair, C. H. H. (ed.),Northumbrian Monuments: or, Shields of arms effigies and inscriptions in the churches, castles and halls of Northumberland, (Publications of the Newcastle upon Tyne Records Committee, vol. iv (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1924)).
Hodgson, J., A History of Northumberland, in three parts,(Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827).
Leach, B. M., ‘Remains of Ancient Mural Paintings in BelsayCastle’, in Middleton, Sir A. E. An Account of BelsayCastle in the County of Northumberland(Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1910).
Middleton, Sir A. E., An Account of BelsayCastle in the County of Northumberland(Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1910).
White, R., Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens, English Heritage Guidebooks (London, 2005).

11:25 | Kate Rogers, Department of Archaeology, University of Southampton

The truth about truth in filming archaeology

The documentary modes of ‘direct cinema’ and ‘cinema verite’ offer radical approaches for using film to capture a “higher truth” that arguably provides a closer index to reality than text or photography – a truth documentary practitioners and theorists allege can surpass scientific reporting, social-media publicity, or procedural instruction. But do archaeologists actually want this kind of filmmaking applied to archaeology? Can we handle the truths such documentation might tell us about our discipline, our practices, and ourselves? In this paper I share my 10-year journey thus far through non-fiction filmmaking in archaeology, and reflect upon how the more I film archaeology, the harder I find it is to capture “truth” on film within archaeological contexts. My filmmaking experiences range from creating corporate videography about Australian Aboriginal sites in an commercial archaeology setting, to making short multi-modal documentaries about Aboriginal sites with a social-justice lens, to making promotional social media videos promoting UK academic archaeological research, to more recent attempts to create feature-length verite-style documentaries during my PhD. Throughout experimenting with all these formats and approaches I have found filmmaking to be a technical, creative, emotional, and theoretical rollercoaster – but ultimately, I find I am still yet to capture the “higher truth” that the documentary mission champions. In this paper I interrogate the merits and limitations of documentary filmmaking in an archaeological context, as well as my own growth and limitations as a filmmaker – all of which I could only discover through practice – and I consider the implications of this for filmmaking in archaeology going forward.

11:43 | Colleen Morgan PhD, Lecturer in Digital Archaeology and Heritage, Department of Archaeology, The University of York

The disastrous fun of immersive archaeological storytelling through 360° video

As an archaeologist who plays with digital media, I have been particularly interested in emerging visualisation technologies and their ability to re-frame our understanding of the archaeological subject. In the case of 360° video the visualisation has radically altered this frame, stretching the usual array of filmic affordances to full surround. For example, even relatively mundane use of 360° video in fieldwork requires a complete staging of the archaeological Mise-en-scène for an “authentic” immersive experience. The performance of archaeological work must be completely realized and the media maker, previously hidden behind the lens, now must hide from the camera entirely if they do not wish to be in the scene. This highlights ongoing issues regarding the panopticon and surveillance in archaeology but also what Aitamurto (2019) has identified as “normative paradoxes” within the use of the medium in journalism regarding the perception of accuracy and increased emotional impact compromising the “authentic capture.” Finally, for every slick, successful product, there are the failures and mistakes, our digital monsters, the astonishing wreckage of our experimentation that I often find more revealing and compelling. In this paper I explore the practicalities, eccentricities, critical potential and the disastrous fun of 360° video as an emerging technology within archaeology and invite other participants to help forge a more meaningful practice of immersive storytelling in our discipline.

Aitamurto, T. (2019). Normative paradoxes in 360° journalism: Contested accuracy and objectivity. New Media & Society, 21(1), 3–19.

12:01 | Tanya Venture, The SCAPE Trust / University of Exeter

That’s a Wrap; film as an intrinsic part of project evaluation

Since 2012, SCAPE has worked with citizen scientists and local community volunteers on the Scotland’s Coastal Heritage at Risk Project (SCHARP), a four-year project designed to record and interpret archaeological sites around Scotland’s dynamic coastline. The project ended in 2016 and as part of the evaluation process SCAPE decided to compliment the written report with a set of three evaluation films. Throughout the project film was used as a key as component and it seemed a natural progression that it too would play an intrinsic part in the final report. In September 2015 I was hired to lead on creating these films. The SCAPE Trust have used film extensively as a method of investigation, recording and communication which created a great atmosphere to compliment my own background as both an archaeologist and filmmaker.

This paper will look at the many different ways that film was utilised within the project itself and how it became a critical element to the evaluation process and final reporting product. It will discuss the practical aspects involved in creating these films, with a vast array of professional and non-professional stakeholders, and just how it was used to help tell the story of such a vast project. The paper will end with a critical discussion of how well the techniques worked and the potential for the future use of film within archaeological project evaluation.

12:19 | Konstanza Kapsali, FILMMAKER; Katerina Markoulaki, FILMMAKER

Nostalgia for lost Futures: the case of Athens. A video experimentation with the palimpsest of material remains in the Greek capital.

In his 1993 book Spectres of Marx, Jacques Derrida introduces the concept of Hauntology, to refer to the way in which nothing enjoys a purely positive existence. He claims that everything that exists is possible only on the basis of a whole series of absences. In 'Ghosts of my Life. Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures', Mark Fisher seeks to redefine the concept by diving into the connections between pop culture, politics and personal life, questioning if his struggle with depression was an individual or a cultural problem, a collective symptom resulting from the “closed horizons of capitalist realism”.

The video work “Nostalgia for lost Futures: the case of Athens” (in progress) uses Hauntologyas an inspiration and a critical lens to approach material remains or representations of the past (mainly the Classical past) in the present of Athenian cityscapes. It creates a hypothetical landscape, and thus, a new cityscape based on the archaeology of absence, in order to tackle the established approach to monumentality and collective memory in the Greek capital. Which material remains are prioritized over others? Which cultural period is officially showcased and why?
The video work will be presented in incomplete form, as part of an ongoing theoretical, but primarily visual, research project on the palimpsest of the Athenian cityscape.

12:37 | Jaime Almansa-Sánchez, JAS Arqueología, Madrid / Incipit-CSIC; Jesús Alonso, Independent Researcher; Felipe Muñoz, Independent Researcher; Guillermo Palomero, Complutense University of Madrid

Four views on a dildo, and other stories of #fakearchaeology

#fakearchaeology is about contemporary representations of the past, excavated from abandoned leisure sites. A form of contemporary archaeology that talks about the use of the past in the present. During the last days of May 2019, a group of four archaeologists started to approach some sites in order to develop methodologies for the interventions… and decided to record it.
This ‘paper’ is a screening of four views of fieldwork. Archaeology and daily life in the birth of a new project. An amalgam of clips that try to tell the story of these days, ourselves and the sites. Can these images tell more than a thousand words? We will try to disentangle what we recorded, what we edited and what we actually did.

12:55 | Session organisers

Closing statements

13:00 | END