My second draft PhD Proposal

**Update the final approved PhD Proposal can be viewed here**

This is my second draft of my PhD Proposal.  My first is located here to compare.  In this round, I tried to better describe the actual research and how it might impact archaeological study.  I would really appreciate any thoughts or comments, negative or positive so I am able to better improve on this proposal.







Keywords: Virtual Archaeology, Virtual Reality, Archaeological Visualization, Archaeology, Northern Iroquoian Longhouses, Agency, Authenticity, Authority, Transparency.


My PhD research will be comprised of two parts; a) the use of quantitative archaeological data, qualitative oral and historical accounts of 15th Century Northern Iroquoian longhouse construction and use, combined with virtual archaeology methods and theories, to envision and document a prototypical Iroquoian Longhouse, constructed within virtual space and b) to explore virtual archaeology meaning-making as it pertains to archaeologists perception of virtual reality and the visualization of archaeological data. By using the archaeological record as it pertains to the physicality of longhouse construction and use, we are able to envision the unseen. Many cultural, economic, societal and environmental factors help to inform this inquiry, however my desire and goal is to develop both a theoretical and virtual model of the fundamental features of a longhouse that is the manifestation of the dynamic archeological landscape, oral and written histories as well as the creative imagination of the artists and technicians who will ultimately be tasked with digitally reimagining these elusive, iconic and culturally significant architectural symbols of the Northern Iroquoian existence (Watts 2009; Woodworth 1998). Technology is at the point where we can provide an almost hyper-real experience to the participant viewer, may they be scholar, Descendant or the public (Frankland and Earl 2011; Forte 2014a; Gabellone et al. 2013; Giddings 2015; Morgan 2009; Moser and Smiles 2008). Further, that same technology potentially allows the participant to interpret and modify the objects and material being displayed/provided, giving them the ability to reorder, reinterpret or remix at will (Fisher and Twiss-Garrity 2007; Frankland and Earl 2011). These are the machinations that now loom over virtual archaeology and ones we must examine critically and systematically.


Using the (re)imagination of a virtual Northern Iroquoian Longhouse in virtual reality as context to inform our exploration of virtual archaeology, this research will be guided by and include theoretical elements from Dawson, Levy and Lyons (phenomenology and presence), Reilly, Barceló, Frischer, Forte, Dallas, Huggett, Gillings (virtual archaeology) and Watts, Ferris, Robb, Frankland, Earl, Perry, Gosden, Denard (agency, authenticity, authority and transparency) among others from a virtual perspective and Dodd, Wright, Kapches, Snow, Williamson and others from a Northern Iroquoian longhouse construction and use perspective.

With rapid advancements in technology, there now exists a cornucopia of progressively successful attempts to engage the archaeological record within virtual reality or virtual archaeology. As with most applications of theory in reality, there too is a split between the qualitative and the quantitative nature of the technology and how it is implemented. Reilly, Barceló, Frischer and others see the digital tools, the process and the outcomes as part and parcel of the quantitative, scientific nature of archaeological research; data that should be represented by and through scientific means. Dawson, Levy, Lyons and Forte, see virtual archaeology as a phenomenological emotional experience in which the participant isn’t a passive viewer, but an equal partner in the exploration of the multi-vocal archaeological landscape where the data, material culture and the visual (re)imagination of the archaeological environment are engaged through the users eyes.

The transformative nature of technology and in particular our ability to manipulate digital data freely, whether visual or not, has given form to a multi-vocal approach to the interpretation of the archaeological record (Forte 2011, 2014a, 2014b). Following Hodder, Forte sees multi-vocal engagement within virtual archaeology as the ability to allow for multiple voices to engage and contribute to the overall interpretation of the virtual archaeological environment (2008; 2011, 2014a, 2014b). This authentic multi-vocal experience can lead to new research questions and hypotheses, disrupting the notion of the archaeologist as the interpreter of the “truth” (Earl 2013; Forte 2014b). As (digital) archaeologists, we are no longer the singular authoritative voice, but providers of material and assets in which stakeholders and the public themselves can construct and reimagine their own cultural presence within virtual space (see Earl 2013 & Perry 2014; Dasgupta 2006; Forte 2011 & 2014b).

Dawson, Levy and Lyons called this phenomenological experience presence; “the emotional connectedness of being transported to another time and place” (see Dawson et al. 2011). Although their study group were descendent participants, can this same experience be true for non-descendants as well? Can archaeologists use this technology and methodology in a phenomenological way to envision what isn’t seen in the archaeological record to better inform current and future research (see Watts 2009)?

Longhouses occupy a special narrative amongst descendent Iroquoian societies and modern archeologists. An active and engaged oral tradition has given the longhouse a spiritual existence in which the North American modern day longhouse continues to be a powerful symbol of community for those descendent populations, representing an architectural lineage that exemplifies agency and a unique way of life (see Heidenreich 1972; Kapches 1994; Mohawk 1978; O’Gorman 2010; Watts 2009; Woodworth 1998).   At the base level, the longhouse represents community in both physical and metaphysical traditions, embodying the physical to convey societal, cultural and political worldviews (Hayden 1968; Heidenreich 1972; Mohawk 1978; O’Gorman 2010; Ramsden 2009; Varley & Cannon 1994). For Iroquoian culture, the longhouse was a symbol of how the community functioned and was politically structured within their larger world, forming the boundaries of their influence, and symbolic of the longhouse itself (see Allen & Williams-Shuker 1998; Heidenreich 1972; O’Gorman 2010; Mohawk 1978). Though limited physical remnants remain of these structures, they are subjectively alive in the contested colonial writings and descriptions of historical explorers, the oral traditions of cultural descendants and the visual imagination of modern writers and filmmakers (Boyden 2013; Heidenreich 1972; Thwates 1896-1901).

Although the archaeological record reveals several centuries of longhouse and village-like settlement patterns for the Late Woodland, the modern perception of what a longhouse hypothetically looked and felt like is really derived from the latter part of the Late Woodland (sometimes referred to as the Terminal Woodland; see Ferris and Spence 1995), where archaeological and historical data come together to provide a general “convention” for what a longhouse “should be” (Snow 1997; Williamson 2004; Wright 1995). Further, it is these idealized non-native interpretations that continue to reinforce not only the academic but also the public’s notion of what a longhouse was and is (Williamson 2004). It is from these qualitative and quantitative data points that we will explore what a longhouse is physically within the archaeological and historical record.

My understanding of the visualization of longhouses from the archaeological record arises principally from the work of four archaeologists; J.V. Wright, Mima Kapches, Christine Dodd and Dean Snow. Due to the lack of any real physical evidence, models of longhouse use, style, agency, and construction have been hotly contested for decades (see Kapches 1994; Snow 1997; Williamson 2004; Wright 1995). The work of these archaeologists, in combination with continued observations and challenges from other exemplary researchers, form a base of understanding that helps to frame how longhouses were constructed. Using Dodd’s extensive quantitative research gleaned from an exhaustive review of longhouse data derived from field excavations (1984) and based on the qualitative and quantitative observations of Wright (1971), Kapches (1994) and Snow (1997) among others, a basic template for the construction of longhouses emerges. It is this template we seek to replicate virtually.

Rationale and Objectives

The study of Northern Iroquoian longhouses is a mercurial archaeological endeavour. Fragments of these once grand physical manifestations of social, cultural and political agency within the Late Iroquoian phases of the Ontario complex (Birch & Williamson 2013) are little more than “ghosts” below the soil line within the archaeological landscape. Soil stains are all that remain of the supporting posts and exterior walls of these unique cultural buildings representing only a small glimpse into how these dwellings once functioned or even looked.

These soil stains and the cultural material associated in and around the boundaries of these transitory structures, as well as historical Eurocentric writings and drawings and the oral traditions of descendent cultural groups, are what now form our archaeological understandings of the lifecycle of a longhouse, and more importantly, the cultural significance these structures played within Iroquoian life (Woodworth 1998). However, the enigma is that our understanding arising from these data points is imaginatively speculative at best and thus the challenge is to not only visualize these lost cultural manifestations, but also to embody all of the senses that the archaeological landscape cannot preserve; the haptic, olfactory and auditory – in other words the phenomenological (see Watts 2009). The ability to experience the application of sight, sound, smell, and touch in context, helps to embody the overall phenomenological archaeological experience (Dawson et al. 2011) and in turn may provide further understanding to the archaeological record. These are some of the challenges that frame the current debate on what a longhouse is and how it shapes our understanding of the lifeway of the people who thrived within these architectural representations of Iroquoian culture.

Virtual reality by definition is an interpretation of self within a different space, time or plane (see Sutherland 1965). It is narrative generating and thus both the technology and the process of creating virtual reality have borrowed heavily from the entertainment industry (see Frankland and Earl 2011 and Denard 2012). In doing so, by taking a creative approach to the interpretation of the archaeological data, the agency of that data is now layered upon and seen through the creators lens; what “artist’s impression” intend the virtual space to convey (see Earl 2013; Frankland and Earl 2011; Frischer et al. 2000; Moser and Smiles 2008; Perry 2015). The digital reproduction of objects, landscapes and narratives have agency both in the real and virtual worlds and as such must be treated with equal consideration and respect (Earl 2013; Forte 2014a; Huggett 2012a, 2015; Pauketat and Alt 2005; Richardson 2013; Robb 2010).

Thus my research will focus on the interpretive nature of virtual archaeology not only to visualize but also to inform archaeological research. It will embody the framework of agency, authority, authenticity and transparency by addressing them systematically through the research, visualization and dissemination of archaeological theory and knowledge as it pertains to the visualization of a typical Iroquoian longhouse. In doing so, my research will allow for a new perspective in longhouse construction and use, while further enabling a robust scientific approach to the use of virtual reality within archaeological research.

Case study

 This proposed research will provide representative visual material to be used as one interpretation based on the archaeological data, oral and written histories of an interactive phenomenological virtual representation of Iroquoian longhouse use within the pre-contact 15th Century, for the Museum of Ontario Archaeology (MOA) and Sustainable Archaeology (SA). The design, development and implementation of virtual archaeological data are a relatively new approach to Iroquoian archaeological research and knowledge dissemination within Ontario. As such, this research will reflect on the experience of interpreting the data from a visual experience while still addressing and developing protocols to address agency, authority, authenticity, transparency and traditional Iroquoian archaeological research within virtual reality.

By virtualizing an Iroquoian longhouse and by disseminating this project by means of social media to the archaeological community, I hope to gain additional insight into the construction methodologies and use as perceived by experts within the community. This form of multivocal meaning-making will allow not only my research, but those of others to potentially voice how longhouse construction and use might have been employed by the 15th Century Northern Iroquoian peoples through a mashing of ideas and concepts. In doing so, I am engaging a broader knowledge base, while continuing to establish a visualization template developed through established quantitative archaeological data.

As the end product, a fully immersed virtual reality archaeological representation of a typical Iroquoian longhouse, will be presented to MOA guests, stakeholders and governmental representatives, the process and the product must adhere to accepted archaeological method and theory. It is in this process that my research will be tested not only by the data presented, but the phenomenological experience provided.


Virtual Archaeology has become a powerful tool in the interpretation of archaeological landscapes and artifacts as a means of knowledge building and meaning making (see Dallas 2009, Earl 2013, Forte 2014a & 2014b, Huggett 2013 & Perry 2014). It has become a “mediating tool” allowing researchers to experiment with the data and to tease out the tensions that arise from a multi-vocal environment (see Dallas 2009 & Earl 2013). These alternate visions help to “stimulate interpretation” creating multi-channeled narratives which spur on additional and unforeseen research questions (Earl 2013). As such, what is apparent is that the practice/study/craft has transcended beyond the internal realm of archaeological study to be fully accepted externally as representative of archaeological studies without it really establishing itself as an accepted cannon of archaeological research (see Earl 2013 & Perry 2014). Thus the challenges virtual archaeology represents within the broader field of archaeological theory and method, is going beyond the perceived notion of the technology as a tool to archaeologically illustrate data, but as a transformative vehicle to engage with the material culture in a way that allows for all visions to be represented, tested and valued.

I intend to test the perceived notion of virtual archaeology and it’s ability or inability, to inform and contribute to the broader archaeological study between three sets of Heritage Professionals with specific expertise in Northern Iroquoian research: i) Academic and Professional Archaeologists who have had limited exposure to Virtual Archaeology, ii) Academic and Professional Archaeologists who have moderate to substantial exposure to Virtual Archaeology and iii) Heritage Professionals who deal with the knowledge dissemination of archaeological material to the broader public. To develop a representative base, I will seek a broad set of individuals in age, gender, professional experience and backgrounds. My goal is to: i) observe how Heritage professionals perceive the virtual environment in terms of authenticity, authority and agency, ii) document their interpretation of the representation and placement of digital assets, landscapes and structure as informed by my interpretation of the archaeological, oral and historical data, and iii) record any alternative meaning-making they themselves would develop after experiencing my interpretation of the archaeological record in virtual reality.

All study candidates will be given an option of choosing between a fully immersed virtual reality experience using Ocular Rift immersive goggles or a less immersive experience with a hand-held controller and TV display. The study methodology will comprise of: i) observations of the three types of study participants and ii) semi-structured interviews and commentary from the participants pre, in the course of and post virtual reality experience. A pre-experience questionnaire will be developed to determine the participant’s general perception of virtual archaeology. As the Ocular Rift goggles, hand held controllers and the computer platform that controls the data is highly portable, interviews will be ideally conducted in private at the participant’s place of choosing or a private, controlled room within the University. To ensure safety for the participants who choose the fully immersive experience, there will be an option to sit or stand with myself within arms length to guide the participant should their balance be affected. A medical release will be developed in conjunction with the pre-experience questionnaire. Once the subject is in position and engaged with the virtual environment, I will observe the participant’s body movements and non-prompted verbal responses. Lastly after the participant has engaged with the virtual environment, they will be interviewed in a semi-structured manner for no more than one hour with the allowance to provide additional feedback via email if desired. All observations and interviews will be video and audio recorded along with detailed field notes.

Participants will be asked to state their impressions from a professional perspective. They will be asked to comment on the detail or lack there of, of the 3D virtual objects, structure and environment. Prior to the virtual experience, I will ask participants to describe in as much detail as possible, based on their academic and professional expertise, what their vision of a 15th Century Northern Iroquoian longhouse looks and “feels” like. Through the interview, I will seek to understand their perceptions of the virtual environment in terms of agency of the objects and/or representation of the archaeological space, the authority in which the objects are represented and if that authority is enhanced or detracted by the style and manner in which the objects have been rendered. The authenticity of the material presented within the virtual environment based on their professional experience and the transparency in which the project was conducted in providing the appropriate level of detail and description during the (re)imagination process. Lastly feedback will be sought regarding their overall impression on whether virtual reality enhances the scientific methodology of archaeological research and thus, enables a new form of envisioning the archaeological record. I will compare the pre-entry and exit comments to determine if virtual archaeology has no, little or substantial effect on their professional opinion on the use of virtual archaeology as an established scientific methodology, personal meaning-making and desire to expand this process in their own archaeological research and dissemination.


I am proposing to design, develop and implement a method for the visualization of archaeological data and speculative academic insight within virtual archaeological environments. That this research method is grounded in the theories that have formed around the study of virtual archaeology, specifically: agency, authenticity, authority and transparency. In doing so, I hope to build upon the continued work of Dodd, Wright, Kapches, Snow and others with regards to Northern Iroquoian longhouse construction and use.

The impact of this study could be substantial. Apart from the pioneering phenomenological work done by Dawson, Levy and Lyons, current research has indicated that no other project is attempting to phenomenologically recreate a 3D virtual pre-contact native dwelling to the level and sophistication usually reserved for high-end gaming or film production. Further, following the recent development of The London Charter, this project will endeavor to develop a body of transparent knowledge, which is archaeological community based and encourages debate and opinion throughout the visualization process. Lastly this project will impact and contribute to the ongoing research and debate on virtual archaeology, it’s application, use and substantial contribution to the study and discipline of archaeology. Using the current language of digital media dissemination, I am attempting to develop a virtual archaeological 3D Wiki; a real-time tool that will eventually allow archaeologists and stakeholders to input as an active member or lurk as a passive participant in the personal archaeological knowledge building process.


In progress: I have already constructed using the available archaeological data, a 3D representation of a prototypical Northern Iroquoian Longhouse, along with associated household objects within Maya and have ported those assets into the Unity Game Engine. Testing is currently being conducted on the use of Ocular Rift as a phenomenological engagement platform and Beta deployment of the Longhouse representation has been tested amongst Heritage Professionals for antidotal impressions of the theme and technology used.

Further, following The London Charter, all steps in the design, development, current implementation and knowledge dissemination of this virtual archaeological research have been recorded and made available specifically to the archaeological community and the public at large through the use of social media.

November 2015 – January 2016: Completion of the 3D construction of the longhouse and associated assets within Maya with a final porting of those assets into the Unity Game Engine. Technical testing of the delivery platform(s) using Ocular Rift, Desktop and Internet based systems.

Relevant ethics protocols will be acquired as needed for my case study of user experiences by heritage professionals.

January – March 2016: I will conduct interviews of Heritage professionals. Transcribe any audio and videos collected and collate written comments provided by the focus group participants.

March – December 2016: Preparation of my dissertation. Any interview participants, named and/or quoted, will be given the opportunity to approve whether and in what context their quoted statements appear in the final products.

A detailed breakdown of the approximated thesis section deadlines:

I am choosing to use the Integrated-Article format for my dissertation writing option.

Jan-Mar 2016:                        Article 1 – Case Study (Last 2 weeks of Mar: Revisions)

Mar-June 2016:         Article 2 – Literature Review (Last 2 weeks of Mar: Revisions)

July-Aug 2016:           Article 3 – Methodology (Last 2 weeks of Aug: Revisions)

Sept-Oct 2016:           Introduction (Last 2 weeks of Sept: Revisions)

Nov-Jan 2017:                        Conclusions (First 2 weeks of Jan: Revisions)

Jan-Feb 2017:                        Final Revisions and edits

Early Mar 2017:         Send out complete draft to advisors

End of Mar 2017:       Submit

April 2017:                 Defend and publish finished PhD dissertation.




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3 Replies to “My second draft PhD Proposal”

  1. Looks great. Since you are coming at this reconstruction from a number of angles, you might want to refer to relevant experimental archaeological studies as well as what useful information ethnographic analogy might suggest.

    1. Hi Bill,

      Many thanks for your continued support and comments! After a good conversation with Martin Lominy, who is a native archaeologist in Quebec specializing in experimental archaeology a week ago, I realized quickly I was missing that angle. His comments on the practicality of harvesting poles with various reproduction stone implements gave me a better understanding of potential manufacturing methodologies. I’m going to be adding experimental archaeology into the mix going forward but hadn’t done enough reading by my deadline to do it within the proposal……something I will have to be prepared for during the Oral Exam.

      Obviously if you have any insight into recent publications, please pass them along!



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