Item Details

Digital Escapism: How Objects Become Deprived of Matter

Issue: Vol 5 No. 2 (2018) Forum: Anarchy and Archaeology

Journal: Journal of Contemporary Archaeology

Subject Areas: Archaeology

DOI: 10.1558/jca.34353


In contemporary archaeology, we can identify a clash of two apparently antagonistic "paradigms": the "(re)turn to things" and the "digital turn". The latter has had great impact on archaeological museums, traditionally focused on material objects, and in this article I analyse this in terms of a phenomenon that I call "digital escapism". Digital escapism embraces ontological and epistemological questions that stem from the digital turn in archaeology - it might denote the dismissal of artefacts as subjects of scientific interest, or a shift in focus to digital methods as a means to creating an immersive past reality. It may also relate to big data in archaeology and the attempt to (re)connect this archaeology with science by way of informatics. My analysis of the exhibition presented in Rynek Underground, a museum in Krakow, provides a case study of digital escapism within museum space.

Author: Monika Stobiecka

View Original Web Page

References :

Ambrosio, C. 2014. Objectivity and Representative Practices across Artistic and Scientific Visualization.” In Visualization in the Age of Computerization, edited by A. Carusi, A. S. Hoel, T. Webmoor and S. Woolgar, 118–144. London and New York: Routledge.

Beale, G. and P. Reilly. 2017. “After Virtual Archaeology: Rethinking Archaeological Approaches to the Adoption of Digital Technology.” Internet Archaeology 44. Online.

Bennett, J. 2010. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Berggren, A., N. Dell’Unto, M. Forte, S. Haddow, I. Hodder, J. Issavi, N. Lercari, C. Mazzucato, A. Mickel and J. S. Taylor. 2015. Revisiting Reflexive Archaeology at Çatalhöyük: Integrating Digital and 3D Technologies at the Trowel’s Edge.” Antiquity 89 (344): 433–448.

Boelsdorff, T. 2016. For Whom the Ontology Turns: Theorizing the Digital Real.” Current Anthropology 57 (4): 387–408.

Brown, D. 2007. “Te Ahu Hiko: Digital Cultural Heritage and Indigenous Objects, People, and Environments.” In Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage: A Critical Discourse, edited by F. Cameron and S. Kenderdine, 77–92. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Cameron, S. 2007. “Beyond the Cult of the Replicant – Museums and Historical Digital Objects: Traditional Concerns, New Discourses.” In Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage: A Critical Discourse, edited by F. Cameron and S. Kenderdine, 49–76. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Carusi, A. and A. S. Hoel. 2015. Brain, Windows and Coordinate Systems.” In Visualization in the Age of Computerization, edited by A. Carusi, A. S. Hoel, T. Webmoor and S. Woolgar, 145–169. London and New York: Routledge.

Champion, E. and B. Dave. 2007. “Dialing Up the Past.” In Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage: A Critical Discourse, edited by F. Cameron and S. Kenderdine, 333–348. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Chowaniec, R. 2017. Archaeology for Everyone: Presenting Archaeological Heritage to the Public in Poland. Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Instytutu Archeologii Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego.

Classen, C. and D. Howes. 2006. The Museum as Sensescape: Western Sensibilities and Indigenous Artifacts.” In Sensible Objects: Colonialism, Museums and Material Culture, edited by C. Gosden, E. Edwards and R. B. Phillips, 199–222. Oxford and New York: Berg.

Coppelstone, T. and D. Dunne. 2017. “Digital Media, Creativity, Narrative Structure and Heritage.” Internet Archaeology 44. Online.

Duncan, C. 1995. Civilizing Rituals: Inside Public Art Museum. New York and London: Routledge.

Earl, G. 2013. “Modelling in Archaeology: Computer Graphic and Other Digital Pasts.” Perspectives on Science 21 (2): 226–244.

____., V. Porcelli, C. Papadopoulos, G. Beale, M. Harrison, H. Pagi and S. Keay. 2013. “Formal and Informal Analysis of Rendered Space: The Basilica Portuense.” In Computational Approaches to Archaeological Spaces, edited by A. Bevan and M. Lake, 265–305. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

Edgeworth, M. 2015. From Spadework to Screenwork: New Forms of Archaeological Discovery in Digital Space.” In Visualization in the Age of Computerization, edited by A. Carusi, A. S. Hoel, T. Webmoor and S. Woolgar, 40–58. London and New York: Routledge.

Favro, D. 2013. “To Be or Not To Be in Past Spaces: Thoughts on Roman Immersive Reconstructions.” In Re-Presenting the Past: Archaeology Through Image and Text, edited by S. Bond and S. Houston, 151–168. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Flicker, A. 2012. Towards A New Digital Historicism? Doing History in the Age of Abundance.” Journal of European History and Culture 1 (1). Available online:

Forte, M. 2007. “Ecological Cybernetics, Virtual Reality, and Virtual Heritage.” In Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage: A Critical Discourse, edited by F. Cameron and S. Kenderdine, 389–408. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

____. 2010 Introduction to Cyber-Archaeology.” In Cyber-Archaeology, edited by M. Forte, 9–14. Oxford: Archaeopress.

____. 2014. “Virtual Reality, Cyberarchaeology, Teleimmersive Archaeology.” In 3D Recording and Modelling in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage: Theory and Best Practices, edited by F. Remondino and S. Campana, 113–127. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Frow, E. K. 2014. “In Images We Trust? Representation and Objectivity in the Digital Age.” In Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited, edited by C. Coopmans, J. Vertesi, M. Lynch and S. Woolgar, 249–268. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Garstki, K. 2016. Virtual Representation: The Production of 3D Digital Artifacts.” Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 24 (3): 726–750.

Gosden, C. 2001. Making Sense: Archaeology and Aesthetics.” World Archaeology 33 (2): 163–167.

Griffiths S., C. Bonacchi, G. Moshenska and L. Richardson. 2015. OK Computer? Digital Community Archaeologies in Practice.” Internet Archaeology 40. Online.

Hamilakis, Y. 2013. Archaeology and the Senses: Human Experience, Memory, and Affect. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Haraway, D. 1988. Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies 14 (3): 575–599.

Harrison, R. 2011. “Surface Assemblages: Towards an Archaeology In and Of the Present.” Archaeological Dialogues 18 (2): 141–161.

Holtorf, C. 2013. On Pastness: A Reconsideration of Materiality in Archaeological Object Authenticity.” Anthropological Quarterly 86 (2): 427–443.

Huggett, J. 2012. “Lost in Information? Ways of Knowing and Modes of Representation in E-Archaeology.” World Archaeology 44 (4): 538–552.

____. 2015a. “A Manifesto for an Introspective Digital Archaeology.” Open Archaeology 1: 86–95.

____. 2015b. “Digital Haystacks: Open Data and the Transformation of Archaeological Knowledge.” In Open Source Archaeology: Ethics and Practice, edited by A. T. Wilson and B. Edwards, 6–29. Warsaw: De Gruyter Open.

____. 2017. “The Apparatus of Digital Archaeology.” Internet Archaeology 44. Online.

Jeffrey, S. 2015. “Challenging Heritage Visualisation: Beauty, Aura and Democratisation.” Open Archaeology 1: 144–152.

Jones, S. 2010. “Negotiating Authentic Objects and Authentic Selves: Beyond the Deconstruction of Authenticity.” Journal of Material Culture 15 (2): 181–203.

____. 2017. “Wrestling with the Social Value of Heritage: Problems, Dilemmas and Opportunities.” Journal of Community Archaeology & Heritage 4 (1): 21–37.

____., S. Jeffrey, M. Maxwell, A. Hale and C. Jones. 2017. “3D Heritage Visualisation and the Negotiation of Authenticity: The ACCORD Project.” International Journal of Heritage Studies 24 (4): 333–353.

Kamash, Z. 2018. “An Antidote to the Digital? Exploring the Space between Digital and Non-Digital in Creative Post-Conflict Reconstruction.” Paper presented at the 46th Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology Conference (CAA 2018), Tübingen, 20 March.

Kemp, M. 2014. “A Question of Trust: Old Issues and New Technologies.” In Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited, edited by C. Coopmans, J. Vertesi, M. Lynch and S. Woolgar, 343–346. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Kidd, J. 2014. Museums in the New Mediascape: Transmedia, Participation, Ethics. Farnham, UK: Ashgate.

Kimball, J. J. L. 2016. 3D Delineation: A Modernisation of Drawing Methodology for Field Archaeology. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Kotler, N. and P. Kotler. 1998. Museum Strategy and Marketing: Designing Missions, Building Audiences, Generating Revenues and Resources. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Květina, P., J. Unger and P. Vavrečka. 2015. Presenting the Invisible and Infathomable: Virtual Museum and Augmented Reality of the Neolithic Site in Bylany, Czech Republic.” Archeologické rozhledy 67: 3–22.

Lercari, N., J. Shulze, W. Wendrich, B. Porter, M. Burton and T. E. Levy. 2016. “3-D Digital Preservation of At-Risk Global Cultural Heritage.” EUROGRAPHICS Workshop on Graphics and Cultural Heritage, edited by C. E. Catalano and L. De Luca. Online.

Levy, T. E., N. G. Smith, M. Najjar, T. A. DeFanti, A. Yu-Min Lin and F. Kuester. 2012. Cyber-Archaeology in the Holy Land: The Future of the Past. San Diego: California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), UC San Diego, Biblical Archaeology Society.

Lucas, G. 2012. Understanding the Archaeological Record. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

McLuhan, M. 2003 [1964]. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. London and New York: Ginkgo Press.

Morgan, C. and P. M. Pallascio. 2015. “Digital Media, Participatory Culture, and Difficult Heritage: Online Remediation and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.” Journal of African Diaspora Archaeology and Heritage 4 (3): 260–278.

Moser, S. 2012. “Archaeological Visualization: Early Artifact Illustration and the Birth of the Archaeological Image.” In Archaeological Theory Today (2nd edition), edited by I. Hodder, 292–321. Cambridge: Polity Press.

____. and S. Smiles. 2008. Envisioning the Past: Archaeology and the Image. Oxford: Blackwell.

Olsen, B. 2010. In Defense of Things: Archaeology and the Ontology of Objects. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press.

____. 2013. Reclaiming Things: An Archaeology of Matter.” In How Matter Matters: Objects, Materiality in Organization Studies, edited by P. R. Carlile, D. Nicolini, A. Langley and H. Tsoukas, 171–196. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

____., M. Shanks, T. Webmoor and C. Witmore. 2012. Archaeology: The Discipline of Things. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Patané, R. P. A. 2011. Impero di Roma e passato troiano nella società del II secolo. Il punto di vista di una famiglia di Centuripe. Rome: Aracne.

Perry, S., and N. Beale. 2015. “The Social Web and Archaeology’s Restructuring: Impact, Exploitation, Disciplinary Change.” Open Archaeology 1: 153–165.

Potts, A. 1994. Flesh and the Ideal: Winckelmann and the Origins of Art History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Remondino, F. and S. Campana. 2014. 3D Recording and Modelling in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage – Theory and Best Practices. British Archaeological Reports, International Series 2598. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Richardson, L. 2013. A Digital Public Archaeology?” Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 23 (1): Art. 10.

Roosevelt, C. R., P. Cobb, E. Moss, B. R. Olson and S. Ünlüsoy. 2015. Excavation is Destruction Digitization: Advances in Archaeological Practice.” Journal of Field Archaeology 40 (3): 325–346.

Schellekens, E. 2008. Aesthetics and Morality. London: Continuum.

Schnapp, A. 1996. The Discovery of the Past: The Origins of the Archaeology. London: British Museum Press.

Shanks, M. 1997. “Photography and Archaeology.” In The Cultural Life of Images: Visual Representation in Archaeology, edited by B. Molyneaux, 73–97. London and New York: Routledge.

____. and T. Webmoor. 2012. “A Political Economy of Visual Media in Archaeology.” In Re-Presenting the Past: Archaeology through image and text, edited by S. Bond and S. Houston, 85–108. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Stefanik, M. and M. Kamel. 2013. Muzea i wystawy interaktywne w Polsce – współczesna atrakcja turystyczna.” Turystyka kulturowa 8: 5–24.

Stanco, F., D. Tanasi, D. Allegra, F. L. M. Milotta and G. Lamagna. 2017. Virtual Anastylosis of Greek Sculpture as Museum Policy for Public Outreach and Cognitive Accessibility.” Journal of Electronic Imaging 26 (1): 1–12.

Stiegler, B. 1998. Technics and Time, vol. 1: The Fault of Epimetheus. Trans. R. Beardsworth and G. Collins. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Stobiecka, M. 2015. Uncovering the Discovered View: The Workshop for Modern Archaeological Documentation.” In Unveiling the Past of an Ancient Town: Akrai/Acrea in South-Eastern Sicily, edited by R. Chowaniec, 101–110. Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Instytutu Archeologii Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego.

Swain, H. 2007. An Introduction to Museum Archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Thomas, J. 2004. Archaeology and Modernity. London and New York: Routledge.

Vergo, P. 1989. The Reticent Object.” In The New Museology, edited by P. Vergo, 41–59. London: Reaktion Books.

Verhagen, P. 2008. Biting Off More Than We Can Chew? The Current and Future Role of Digital Techniques in Landscape Archaeology.” In Landscape Archaeology between Art and Science. From a Multi- to an Interdisciplinary Approach, edited by S. J. Kluiving and E. B. Gutmann-Bond, 309–320. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Webmoor, T. 2015. Algorythimc Alchemy, or the Work of Code in the Age of Computerized Visualization.” In Visualization in the Age of Computerization, edited by A. Carusi, A. S. Hoel, T. Webmoor and S. Woolgar, 19–39. London and New York: Routledge.

Welsch, W. 2000. Virtual To Begin With?” In Subjektivität und Öffentlichkeit – Kulturwissenschaftliche Grundlagenprobleme virtueller Welten, edited by M. Sandbothe and W. Marotzki, 25–60. Cologne: Herbert von Halem.

Witcomb, A. 2007. “The Materiality of Virtual Technologies: A New Approach to Thinking about the Impact of Multimedia in Museums.” In Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage: A Critical Discourse, edited by F. Cameron and S. Kenderdine, 35–48. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Witmore, C. 2014. “Archaeology and New Materialism.” Journal of Contemporary Archaeology 1 (2): 1–44.

Żylińska, J. 2009. Bioethics in the Age of New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.