The Uncertainties

Last Friday I’ve been to the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam for my first meeting of the Virtual Museum Network. It is a very interesting group composed by people with different background and a shared interest for the application of new technologies in cultural heritage contexts. After the presentation of a project on the landscape reconstruction of the archaeological site of the Ename, we had a very interestring discussion. Since the largest part of the audience was composed of archaeologists, one of the first questions on the project was: how did you deal with uncertainties?

Aerial view of the archaelogical site of Ename(Photo : H. Timmermans)

Aerial view of the archaelogical site of Ename
(Photo : H. Timmermans)

This is the crucial point in virtual reconstruction and, as a consequence, in virtual restoration. Since the virtual reconstruction can be the only way to show something that no longer exists, it is highly probable that the work has to deal with some details that are purely guessed. What is the right way to show them?

There is not a univocal answer to this question, and the proper method is created every time according to the ideas of the designer and the goals of the project. Sometimes it can be useful to make immediately visible the difference between the certain and the uncertain objects. For this goal it is possible to resort to visual ruses, as transparency or differences in colours.

A different choice is to not visually highlight uncertainties, but declare them in a second step, by means of texts and explanations.

A third way can be not to show anything that is not sure. This choice, in my opinion, has two big disadvantages: the first is that in archaeology there are different ways to measure the certainty of a reconstruction, and sometimes what is certain due to studies and researches has no physical clues. In this case it is better to show the presumed reconstruction or nothing at all? The second disadvantage is that in this way even the known part of the information on the object is omitted, and this is an important lack in a didactical context.

The discriminating factor in the choice of the way of dealing with the uncertainties is the context in which the reconstruction is employed, whether or not a textual explanation on the object itself and on choices made is provided.

In any case, whatever the choice, it is absolutely necessary to be really clear on which are the uncertain parts of the reconstruction, in order not to deliver wrong information to the audience.

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