This is Not Archaeology: The Interpretive Design of the Past

Tuesday 18 February 2014, 5.15PM

Speaker(s): Kelvin Wilson (Archaeological Illustrator)

Much of what is thought to be understood about the past, and upon which further thinking is built, comes from determining what that past looked like. A picture says more than..., etcetera. So archaeological remains are studied for their visual qualities, briefs are written by those in the know, and trained artists are hired to settle any arising discussions.

One would expect the results to be solely about aspects of the past, to be closely linked to the objective values of science, and to be for lack of a better word, true.

Well, it cannot be.

The very nature of imagemaking is, simply, that it is fabricated. Artists work by a set of rules wholly different from those employing them. Choices made by the brush are, for instance, incapable of the pen’s ambiguity, and cannot avoid conjecture. Nor can the way images are perceived be divorced from the purpose for which they are made— for pictures are, to every artist honest about it or not, merely a box of tricks geared towards one goal: communication.

In my presentation, I will illuminate some of the common design choices made in visualisations of the past. Analysing them with the skewed eye of an imagemaker, elements that were hitherto not considered influential in our appreciation of it, now rear their heads as being deliberate conceptual additions— and again, not always based on hard factual archaeology.

Equally unnerving, artists’ briefs will be shown to be commonly directed into a much less wide field than usually played by other designers — and they thus end up producing fundamentally similiar imagery.

Finally, I will show how one cannot distinguish more than three ‘schools’ in the visual aiding of archaeological science— their ambitions merely counteracting each other in closeknit circles, and over the past hundred years, hardly developed.

All considering, if there are fabrications as yet unmentioned, themes as yet unexplored, and such a narrow platform to fit them on, then there must be manners of visualising the past— plenty, in fact— never before considered.

Kelvin Wilson, resident in the Netherlands though English by birth, is an archaeological reconstruction artist with over twenty years of experience. His work is on permanent display at the British Museum, and has appeared in “National Geographic” magazine. He has worked on site on projects as different as the colourful wardrobe of Tutankhamun, or the halfburied dolmen of southern Russia, and is currently involved in the interpretive visualisations of the Roman town of Karanis, Egypt, for the University of Los Angeles, and in Wales, in bringing back to life the era of the princely cattle herders of medieval Snowdonia.

A keen debater, the illustrator made wellreceived contributions to Southampton University’s longrunning Visualisation in Archaeology project, and recently, was a speaker at Chicago’s Theoretical Archaeology Group meeting.

Location: King's Manor / 111

Admission: Free & open to all. Join us for wine at 5.15pm, with talk beginning at 5.30pm. This is a YOHRS (York Heritage Research Seminars) event livestreamed through