Tag Archives: reconstruction

The oldest sins in the newest ways


The new Institute of Digital Archaeology erection

It seems appropriate I should title this with a Shakespeare misquote as it’s the 400th anniversary of his death on Saturday and everyone is doing it. What I’m actually alluding to is the ‘digitally produced’ copy of the Palmyra arch which was erected in Trafalgar Square yesterday by the Institute of Digital Archaeology (involuntary snigger). They’ve made an exact scaled-down replica of an arch destroyed by Daesh, using a digital 3D model created from photos. How new! how sophisticated, how 21st century! cooed the papers. But of course it isn’t a new concept at all, in fact it’s very old school, only the tools have changed (now they work at the Institute of Digital Archaeology, nghh).

They loved their perfect architectural replicas back in the mid-19th century and there was a huge industry turning them out for museums. Moulds were made from the originals and used to produce as many plaster casts as necessary, brilliant. The only downside being that eventually everyone came to the conclusion that casts of ancient monuments were a bit pointless and unsatisfying. They lacked authenticity and, rather critically, age. To everyone’s surprise it turned out that old things were interesting and valued because they were old. New facsimiles just didn’t really interest people no matter how close to the original they were. The cast craze died away by the early 20th century and museums had their cast collections destroyed, sold off or put into permanent storage. One of the few museums to retain some of their casts on display is the Victoria and Albert in London, which I suspect found it hard to back down after they’d invested in a Cast Court specially built to house a life-size cast of the façade of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.


Michaelangelo’s original David which attracts 1.3 million visitors per year, and the V&A’s Victorian cast which mysteriously doesn’t

It’s fascinating to learn from the IDA that reproductions are back on the cutting edge of cultural heritage, so long as they’re produced from a digital model and carved by robots at £100,000 a pop rather than boring old Victorian casts (and I’m so glad we’re spending the money on something that really helps to protect and conserve endangered archaeology in the Middle East and not on some token publicity stunt). Alas, like most digital archaeology, it’s an old and pointless concept in a new and shiny package.


Bunking off Quiddich at Alnwick Castle

In personal news, I survived my 8 hour wait in Istanbul airport by paying to spend it in a lounge with an infinite supply of beer. I also survived a brief National-Trust-athon in Northumberland with my sister, during which we managed to take in four castles, three churches, one priory, Hadrian’s wall, the Lindisfarne mead shop and an unrecorded number of pubs. My sister talked incessantly about her wedding but amply compensated by sending me a whole Spanish ham in the post. Twins are great, they’re the only people really get gifts right.


One week in, the gift of ham just keeps on giving



Movember: Another surly Assyrian gnome

Movember: Another surly Assyrian gnome

It’s been a whole month since I got back from Iraq and what have I been up to? Well, I’ve been very busy in fact as I’ve taken on far too much freelance work for the time available, and for my limited capacity for self-motivation. The biggest job is a series of reconstruction illustrations for a museum in Turkey detailing parts of the Neo-Assyrian town I was digging up back in August. I started off doing the first one on Adobe Illustrator but this turned out looking a bit too much like a poorly rendered computer game and encouraged other members of the project to demand an irritating number of artistically unattractive changes in the name of scientific accuracy. In an attempt to put an end to this sort of rubbish I have now reverted to the more intractable oil-on-canvas format. This has a few downsides, including getting paint on my parents’ curtains, not being able to work in the same room as the television, and accidentally washing my brush in my cup of tea instead of the paint thinner (three times now). Large architectural pieces are not coming particularly easily, probably because my artistic specialisms are dogs, horses and giant Japanese anime-style robots. I have learned that Neo-Assyrian soldiers dressed almost exactly like gnomes and any attempt to make them look un-gnomish will fail. House-based archaeology is hard.

My more usual subject matter: boy meets girl, girl meets boy, boy leaves on giant robot to save world from ill-defined evil

My more usual subject matter: boy meets girl, girl meets boy, boy leaves on giant robot to save world from ill-defined evil

Wino: I tell Lilly to drink a glass of water and go to bed

Wino: I tell Lilly to drink a glass of water and go to bed

My punishing work regime demands that I get up first thing in the afternoon and start work straight after The Daily Politics, and the one o’clock news. Work then progresses through the day uninterrupted except for the couple of hours either side of dinner, any film that gets four stars or more in the Radio Times and a bit of clandestine wine drinking when the cat is feeling down. Remarkably similar to my PhD years really. I’ve had to take a few breaks, of course, to visit friends and to escape my parents’ commentary on the mess, the disappearances from the fridge and the state of the curtains. The large amount of time (and money) I’ve been spending on the train has at least allowed me to indulge my renewed passion for dystopian British comics of the late 1980s, resulting in an unnecessarily bleak mental attitude for the festive period. Still, there’s those Roman pot sherds I agreed to illustrate to look forward to. For Christmas I have mostly asked for hijabs.

John Constantine battles to save the town of Thursdyke from committing suicide after Thatcher's Britain becomes too grim to bear

John Constantine battles to save the town of Thursdyke from committing suicide after Thatcher’s Britain becomes too grim to bear