Interpretations from digital sensations? Using the digital sensory turn to discover new things about the past.

Stuart Eve, Catriona Cooper


We are at a turning point in development and thought about multi-sensorial engagement using digital mediation. From Oculus Rift VR googles or noise-reducing headphones through to vibrating-haptic simulating gloves, smell generators and virtual treadmills, every week a new technology or software emerges that can be used to virtualise, augment or diminish our reality, across all of our senses. Digital archaeologists have always been at the forefront of using these new technologies and one glance at past proceedings of the CAA conferences show how enthusiastic and competent archaeologists are at deploying them in heritage applications.

These new technologies are very often used for the public presentation or exploration of archaeological sites. The technology is used as a way to broadcast interpretations, to present current thinking to an interested 'public' or to allow the sites to be experienced remotely. From the hundreds of virtual reconstructions of Rome, to the smelly galleries of the Jorvik centre multi-sensory applications are often used to simply evoke a feeling or to 'show' people what things looked like. Whilst this is, of course, an admirable and very important aim – this session instead seeks to explore the projects and applications where a multi-sensory approach has enabled a fundamentally different interpretation of a site or artefact.

Examples might include an acoustic model that demonstrates a new use of the public space or landscape, an exploration of smell that challenges the current view of town planning, a haptic interface that can be used to experiment with pottery fabrics or a visual analysis of movement through a prehistoric village.

The current theoretical sensory turn in archaeology allied with the availability of new multi-sensory technologies is the start of an exciting physical/digital era – but only if we use the technology and theory together sensibly and are not just creating new things because we can. This session then welcomes papers and presentations that don't simply claim “here is a cool model of X that I made”, but instead we encourage papers that shout firmly out loud, “here is something I made that tells us something new about my site and about the heritage and archaeology of the world”.

Traditional papers are welcomed, but more novel forms of presentation and demonstration are actively encouraged.