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.

Cheers,

Michael

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MICHAEL CARTER – PHD DISSERTATION PROPOSAL

WORKING TITLE: VIRTUAL ARCHAEOLOGY, VIRTUAL LONGHOUSES AND “ENVISIONING THE UNSEEN” WITHIN THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL RECORD.

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

Introduction

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.

Background

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.

Methodology

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.

Contribution

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.

Timeline

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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Longhouse 3.5.5

IMG_4566It’s been a whirlwind week here.  Craig, Jamie Kwan and I attended the Heritage Toronto Gala Tuesday night to roll out the first public viewing of Longhouse3.x.  Jamie was my graduate research assistant this year in the Master in Digital Media program here at Ryerson University, who used his architectural training to help visualize the modern interpretation of a 3D longhouse in Longhouse 2.5.  It proved to be a stellar night and full of surprises from a research perspective.  I want to thank Heritage Toronto for the opportunity to present our work and a special thanks to Claire van Nierop and Ron Williamson from ASI for inviting us to be part of their presentation.

IMG_0169

Due to some last minute difficulties we had running the Ocular Rift DK2 on our Alienware Laptop, we switched to a monitor setup with XBox360 controllers for people to use for one station and Craig used his HP Laptop and OR DK2 for our virtual reality experience. Both interaction platforms were well received, but the OR obviously was the favourite choice among the 30+ or so people who participated.

VR_HTGala

We had a wide range of age, genders and Heritage professionals and enthusiasts try the VR experience.  A non scientific observation was that our female participants spent a considerable amount of time within the environment, experiencing and observing all of the aspects of the reimagined longhouse, while our male participants usually donned the VR for it’s “cool” factor and then ran around quickly without taking the time to notice all of the elements within the environment.  As we had older guests and also didn’t know who among our potential visitors might have ocular issues when putting on the headset, we chose to go with a seating position to ensure some stability for those who might encounter balance issues.  Headphones were used to focus the hearing into the virtual space (which was a combination of forest, water, animal and burning fire sounds based on where you were).  The controller was used to move the individual forward or backwards with the head movement dealing primarily with where you would look in VR space.  As one visitor observed, the OR DK2 naturally allowed the Heritage professionals to look up and around, as they would normally do.  One feature we didn’t have was a crouch command to allow people to inspect objects on the ground or below the standard height within the gaming environment.

The video loop above is our latest test of the longhouse within Unity5.  By staging the visualization of items in the longhouse with everyday domestic items such as food and cooking utensils, it started further discussions on potential placement and use of those items within the space.  Additional constraints involved the light and how it would effect shadows and highlights within what would really be a dark environment.  Lastly, Craig had added smoke from all of the fires, but we soon discovered that it really filled the entire space, especially at the 4-5ft level with a dense fog which made it difficult to see the details in the models. We plan to provide a smoke and non-smoke version shortly to demonstrate what it would be like, which would likely be very unpleasant to function in during the long winter months.

LH3x_1

We added items such as cooking tools, pots and bowls (even with liquid in some….boiling to come later) but the placement is completely assumed and somewhat random.  We can easily change position and hopefully in the next couple of iterations we should be able to pick up objects and move them elsewhere.  Craig did a wonderful job replicating the bowls and spoons and we used previously modelled Iroquoian ceramics from the Sustainable Archaeology test in Longhouse 2.2, although we did have to vastly simplify the students models for the gaming environment.

LH3x_2

One of the major issues we encountered was the complexity and detail we had been adding into the environment.  There has been a lot of thought and detail put into every element and along the way we have tried to optimize the digital assets so that real-time play would not be compromised, but it was clear with the test we did at Heritage Toronto that some creative “faking” will need to happen so as to speed things up virtually. This faking method would be to use texture maps instead of models for things such as bark cordage/rope, using more pre-rendered complex images and greatly reducing the polygon count on each of the objects within the scene.

LH3.x_3

Another observation was with the outside bark shingles.  They look bright and new and it’s likely that vast amounts of moss and other errant plant material would be growing on the sides, edges and tops of the longhouse.  Rotting of some sort would have taken root as well with the shingles itself and I suspect there would be discolouration due to weathering.  We still need to add the exterior exoskeleton which helps to stabilize and support the shingles.

LH3x_4

This test marks a major stage in the research.  We are fairly close to the final product and will likely be spending the next month or so cleaning up the assets, increasing the speed of the virtual interaction and hopefully providing some user abilities at least in this version for users to pick up objects and possibly interact with the environment more substantially.  As an artist, I crave the hyperreal fully rendered images and sequences, but practically to allow for as many people to engage with the research, a gaming engine is needed and thus that hyperreal look becomes more stylized.

LH3x_5

I would encourage our weekly readers to post comments or send questions through email.  This is how we are learning about new theories, methods and perspectives which only strengthens the projects goals.  Take a spin through the rendered gaming sequence and feel free to comment!

If you are in Midland Ontario this weekend, don’t forget to attend the Ontario Archaeology Societies Symposium – Circles of Interaction: The Wendat and their Neighbours in the Time of Champlain!

Cheers,

Michael

 

 

 

Longhouse 3.4

Craig and I are midway through finishing the exterior and have been preplanning for the additional assets that will be added in order to populate the longhouses. In Film & Television production we call these assets “props”, which act as tools to enhance the emotions or phenomenological experience of the viewer in a particular scene or environment. These assets also help to engage the participant by giving the viewer multiple areas to explore visually and hopefully in our case, through virtual physical interaction.

One of the biggest issues with previous examples of heritage reconstruction within virtual reality has been the clean, sterile environments that are typical of early attempts at 3D. The lack of associated objects which would normally be within a certain context, the dirty, grimy textures of everyday life and the environmental elements such as dust, rain and natural sunlight all play an enormous role that helps convey a narrative whether interactive or not. These visual cues suggest that the reconstruction is just not about the structures itself, but the entire context in which the archaeological landscape lives.

Traditionally a “vision board” or similar technique is used as research for the artists who are visualizing the environment in which the participant viewer will occupy within the 3D space.  Multiple elements are considered and for our purposes I’ve broken those elements down to key areas, everyday living activities and props that will enhance the overall feel as well as generate more research questions. Again the oral histories are scarce and the only substantial historical accounts are from Eurocentric Jesuit Fathers and New World adventurers. Any visuals that exist today are in essence, a romanticized, European visualization of longhouse life. Any visuals that do exist from time of contact are in typical 16th century sketch form and highly stylized and romanticized.

pomeioc1Essentially we will be gleaning imagery that will be interpretations of interpretations, with ours being yet another semi-educated guess based on the archaeological information available and the artistic mindset that we ourselves bring with us.

I would envision a longhouse as being both a massive storage and living area, empty and quiet in the warmer months but heavily populated in the winter. I’m heavily influenced by the movie Black Robe. Although I haven’t seen it in its entirety since the 1990’s but I was struck by the cramped, smokey, grimy and heavily goods and people laden communal living environment the movie portrayed.   One would assume this vision would be close to the normal living conditions as up to 32 or more people could have occupied an 8 bunk or 24m long, longhouse.BlackrobeStarting with the interior rafters, drying supplies such as corn, bark cordage, furs, skins, tobacco, herbs, meat, fish and other goods that the inhabitants didn’t want ground dwelling vermin to attack would be hung in abundance for the long winters storage.

Interior_longhouse_raftersAll the images above are modern (20th Century) artist renditions with the three images on the right hand side actual longhouse reconstructions. I particularly like the top and bottom right images as they really start to convey what the atmosphere of the longhouse environment would be like.

The next vision board was dedicated to the cooking and heating hearths, food supplies and other household items. The images are a mix of Iroquois and Iroquoian replicated goods and longhouse interiors. As far as I can find to date, there are no visual reproductions of Iroquoian goods dating from the 16th-19th Century with only images of 20th Century replicate items.  I should also state that my particular study is in longhouse visual and phenomenological reconstruction and not other areas of Iroquoian life such as ceramics. So I’m going to endeavor to ensure we have Iroquoian examples of pottery modeled and placed within the 3D reconstruction, but if the dates are out on the ceramics we model, please just let me know.

Interior_longhouse_food_fireCorn, squash, nuts, berries and other plants and tubers were part of the Iroquoian diet at different times of the year, with a mixture of fish and game meat making up the daily intake. Cooking those items ranged from a large pot of boiling water or broth to using flat rocks to bake or fry. Roasting spits are usually depicted, but again the histories are scarce on what the cooking areas actually looked like. We assume based on some archaeological excavations that there was a shallow pit, ringed by stones in which embers and slow burning fires were kept. Some suggest there were separate cooking fires away from the heating hearths, however all were roughly aligned down the middle of the longhouse floor.

Interior_longhouse_bark_storageBark and wood was heavily used for storage and cooking utensils. In the image above, these are examples of early 18th Century Iroquoian/Iroquois storage and water containers. Most are made out of pliable birch bark while there are some modern version of what a bark or reed weaved basked might look like. Bowls and spoons were made out of wood. In the rounded vestibules at the entrance of the longhouses there would have been larger bark caskets to hold grains, corn and other items such as apples or squash.

Under the bunks would be the supplies of smaller firewood, with the larger pieces stored in the vestibules. Visually we have to remember that the firewood itself wouldn’t have been cleanly cut as the tools would have still been stone at this point, so I’m envisioning a considerable amount of broken branches, twigs and rotting trunks that would make up the daily supplies of wood fuel.Exterior_longhouse_environmentFor our virtual experience we have chosen to represent one single longhouse and it’s interior. However the exterior longhouse and village environment has to be represented in some manner. The images above again show stylized 20th Century reproductions of Iroquoian villages and environment. Perfect palisades, organized longhouses and clean and green ground throughout the village. I suspect like any well-used environment, grass or organic growth was worn down or non-existent. Plant growth would have occurred in spots where there was less human traffic, such as long the edges of longhouses or out of the direct path from one destination to another. Racks for drying fish and game, skins and furs would have likely populated the area as well as storage, refuse and maybe latrine pits? As we are intentionally limiting access to the broader virtual environment beyond our single longhouse, the sky, tree-line, possible palisade and other dummy longhouses will act as a backdrop for now until we move onto populating the environment with various types of virtual longhouses.

Iroquois_women_workLastly, we have intentionally avoided representing Iroquoian and especially Neutral Native Americans in 3D. Representing and characterizing people from different cultures or even pre-historical times is wrought with problems, especially since any European historical account would be highly racially subjective. Craig and I have talked at length about how to represent the mass of people within a longhouse, without imposing any stereotypes ourselves. One method would be to have greyed anamorphic human characters, with no distinguishing details represent the physical space Iroquoian inhabitants would have occupied within the longhouse. Another option would be to work with the descendent Iroquoian artists and leaders to build characters that would be representative of the peoples of that time similar to what was done for Assassin’s Creed III. However I would like to see a training program developed to allow for Native gamers to build their own stories, characters and environments providing not only 3D assets but a rich set of narrative games based on their own histories, myths and legends.

So as you can see, the assets we intend to use within the virtual longhouse is a mix of modern stylized imagery and a broad set of assumptions on our behalf. However, by attempting to populate what would be a sterile 3D environment with objects, effects and atmospherics, the virtual space becomes more lively, realistic and potentially representative.

LH_game3

My first draft PhD Proposal

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

 

First Draft:

VIRTUAL ARCHAEOLOGY, VIRTUAL LONGHOUSES AND “ENVISIONING THE UNSEEN” WITHIN THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL RECORD

ABSTRACT

In reimagining a 15th century Northern Iroquoian Longhouse within a virtual 3D environment we attempt to address issues of agency, authenticity, authority and most importantly, transparency within virtual heritage reconstructions. Virtual Archaeology and our ability to harness the technology in an applied, innovative and experiential way has allowed scholars, Descendants and the public to “envision the unseen” within the archaeological record. As such, archaeological virtual reconstruction through virtual reality has become a powerful tool in the interpretation of archaeological landscapes and artifacts as a means of knowledge building and meaning making. Thus, Virtual Archaeology is moving from being evidenced based to evidence informed through a natural progression allowed by the evolution of technology and growth of capabilities, user experience and expectation.

INTRODUCTION

In the 1960’s, Ivan Sutherland envisioned a time in the near future in which people would be able to physically enter into an alternative, “digital” world. With the ability to not only see the environment around them, but also the ability to touch, smell, hear and be affected by the environment itself; a unique digital phenomenological experience where the viewer becomes participant and builds on his or her own personal narrative in a non-linear almost life-like virtual experience (see Sutherland 1965).

Within the study and practice of archaeology, we have seen amazing leaps and bounds over the last 20 years in the use of digital technology to inform and scaffold the theories and methods of archaeological research. My proposal is to harness those technologies, theories and methodologies to approach virtual archaeology from a phenomenological perspective in order to empower stakeholders, may they be scholar, Descendent or public within archaeology proper. 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 archaeologist 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)?

To situate this research, I propose to virtually reimagine a prototypical Northern Iroquoian longhouse within an interactive virtual 3D environment. Using existing archaeological data gleaned from excavations of Iroquoian longhouses, oral and historical accounts as well as theoretical opinions on longhouse construction methodologies; I will reimagine a 3D Iroquoian Longhouse within a virtual environment. By referencing the known archaeological data, I will attempt to build the longhouse step by step, which will hopefully inform and suggest what challenges and ingenuities Iroquoian builders faced themselves. Once built, I will place this reconstructed model within a virtual delivery platform so that stakeholders, namely heritage professionals, may experience a sense of “presence” within the virtual world. This will be accomplished with the addition of simulated atmospherics such as natural and artificial (fire hearth) light, particle systems that simulate dust, pollen and smoke as well as the addition of natural sounds that would accompany living within these massive architectural marvels. In following The London Charter, a template for working with heritage assets within the virtual environment, I hope to provide a weekly blog that will discuss the insights, challenges and discoveries as I build this virtual longhouse environment. Called “paradate”, this additional information of the process and decisions being made during the 3D assets building and implementation, will allow scholarly engagement and transparency as we continue along the path of virtual simulation.

Lastly, I intend to seek professional opinions from the archaeological community themselves, not only during the building stage through blogs, Twitter or personal outreach, but by allowing heritage professionals to experience the virtual environment first hand. These initial sessions and the reactions and opinions generated will lay the groundwork for future public and Descendent engagements as the project hopefully moves from the research to public deployment stage.

BACKGROUND and CONTEXT

I graduated with an Honours Bachelor in Visual Arts and Archaeology in 1993 and immediately went to work as a “Salvage Archaeologist” on a multi-stratified mitigation site that contained among other eras, a late Iroquoian level, over a 6 month period. During those long hours of labour intensive test pits, bad weather and accidently destroyed post hole stains, I envisioned and yearned for an alternative “computer aided archaeology” predictive methodology to determine longhouse pole placement and positioning. Something that would not only allow researchers to predict where the positions of poles would be but also allow stakeholders (researchers, descendants, the public) to enter in and interact with a 3D “virtual” recreation of a longhouse directly on site using the archaeological data as a starting point.

Paul Reilly had coined the term Virtual Archaeology in 1991 and the use of 3D visualization was starting to take hold in archaeological research and practice. Empowered with a vision to combine my archaeology and visual arts skills for 3D visualization, thus I applied to Sheridan College in 1994 for their Computer Graphics program and upon completion was accepted into their prestigious post-graduate Computer Animation program with the sole goal of learning the technology to enable “Virtual Archaeology of Longhouse Sites”. Unfortunately the practice and use of technology in archaeology was still in its infancy within Ontario and Canadian archaeology, so pressed with a career choice of multiple offers within the new and rapidly expanding 3D Animation and VFX industry or struggling to be heard within archaeology, I chose the latter which propelled me on a twenty year journey as a film and television 3D animation and VFX industry expert.

Virtual Archaeology has now become a highly debated topic that is now contested not only by the stakeholders it tries to serve, but the practitioners of the theories and methodologies who strive to improve academic rigor and the virtual experience for an ever sophisticated, participatory audience. As technology has increased, what was only a dream 20 years ago can now be made into reality. The process of creating virtual archeological landscapes, objects and environments has also become less of a “black art”, allowing for non-artists to engage in designing, developing and deploying more and more sophisticated heritage inspired virtual reconstructions.

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.

PRIOR RESEARCH 

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.

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 multivocal 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 multivocal approach to the interpretation of the archaeological record (Forte 2011, 2014a, 2014b). Following Hodder, Forte sees multivocal 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 multivocal 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).

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). Virtual archaeology is moving from being evidenced based to evidence informed through a natural progression allowed by the evolution of technology and growth of capabilities, user experience and expectation.

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 allows the particpant 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.

The London Charter has provided practitioners with a set of guidelines which attempt an assurance of authenticity and authority over Digital (virtual) archaeology (Denard 2012; Gabellone et al. 2013). Dawson, Levy and Lyons provide one example of how participants can obtain presence within a virtual archaeological landscape, as well as demonstrating that the foundations of The London Charter can be implemented effectively to maintain rigorous archaeological authority over the virtual material being provided. Our challenge is providing archaeological data to non-archaeologists in ways that are recognizable as visualizations and virtual experiences.

RESEARCH QUESTION(S) 

# 1

What is a longhouse? What data and assumptions within archaeological, historical, and oral traditions go into informing our understanding of what an ancestral northern Iroquoian “longhouse” was and is? What are the challenges and opportunities these divergent lines of evidence present to our efforts to build, engage, and research this form of habitation within virtual contexts?

#2

How has virtual reality been used in archaeology and heritage studies and what might be achievable in the future considering current and upcoming technological advances. How can virtual reconstructions facilitate transformative and innovative research in archaeology?

#3

Ancient, immersive archaeological landscapes and settings can provide audiences with a real sense of being in a place and space; but these are only approximations based on interpretation, supposition, and artistic license. How are issues of authenticity addressed, or not, when developing virtual spaces, and what are some of the main issues when immersive representations are presented as, or assumed to be, authentic? Should intended and unintended audiences only experience virtual representations of the past passively, or should they be able to engage with and challenge the context they explore against what “feels” right to them, whether they are scholar, Descendant or public?

GOALS

We have seen with Dawson, Levy and Lyons that an embodied experience for descendent stakeholders is not only empowering to the participant but beneficial to the archaeologist in unlocking unintended knowledge that further enriches the archaeological record (2011). That digital reproduction of objects, landscapes and narratives do have agency both in the real and virtual worlds and as such must be treated with equal consideration and respect (Earl 2013; Forte 2014b; Huggett 2012a, 2015; Pauketat and Alt 2005; Richardson 2013; Robb 2010). As such virtual archaeology is moving from being evidenced based to evidence informed through a natural progression allowed by the evolution of technology and growth of capabilities, user experience and expectation.

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).

Lastly, archaeological virtual reconstruction through virtual reality 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 multivocal 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).

METHODS

A strong theoretical foundation of my research will reflect elements such as agency, authority, authenticity and transparency as it is relates to virtual archaeology and archaeology in general. Using reflexivity and critical testing, I hope to understand and demonstrate the application of phenomenology, virtual reality and virtual archaeology to facilitate transformative and innovative research within Iroquoian archaeology, providing a template for future use and deployment within other fields of archaeological study.

My research will be informed 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.

My project will incorporate existing academic literature, research and data as it pertains to the knowledge in the construction methodologies and visualizations of Northern Iroquoian Longhouses primarily influenced by Dodd, Kapches, Wright, Snow and Williamson among others in the field.

I will test my hypothesis by engaging with the archaeological and heritage community to participate and engage with the project in a contextual manner, so as to measure their level of interest in using these techniques in their own areas of specialization and interest. To further determine if these methodologies meet the academic rigor while also providing an informed, innovative and experiential application of archaeological research and community engagement.

TIMELINE AND FUNDING

Year 1: Literature review and research on Northern Iroquoian Longhouse use and construction, the previous and current uses of Virtual Archaeology within archaeological discord and the theoretical and methodological concerns of the representation of heritage material and landscapes within virtual environments.

Year 2: Review and research the application of virtual reality production and virtual reality platforms suited to a robust, interactive and phenomenological multivocal virtual archaeological experience. This will also include gap-filling research on areas of concentration in Year 1 and the development of a “paradata” methodology to allow for the transparent engagement with the research process.

Year 3: The recruitment of computer animation knowledge experts, the development, creation and application of 3D assets, the decision and implementation of a virtual reality delivery platform and consolidation and the analysis of the final virtual reality experience by members of the archaeological community.

As I am a part-time PhD student, I am ineligible for research funding. However, as the full-time administrative Director of a graduate program in Digital Media at the Ryerson University, I have access to the technological hardware and software resources needed in the design, development and deployment of a virtual reality project. Further, this project is being generously funded by the Dr. Neal Ferris from the Museum of Ontario Archaeology/Sustainable Archaeology and Dr. Ron Williamson from Archaeological Services Inc. to allow for the hiring of artistic and technical specialists.

CONCLUSION / IMPLICATIONS, IMPACT 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 method is grounded in the theories that have formed around the study of virtual archaeology, specifically: agency, authenticity, authority and transparency. In doing so, by using an area of personal interest, I hope to build upon the continued work of Dodd, Wright, Kapches and Snow with regards to Northern Iroquoian longhouse construction and use.

The potential implications of this project could entail the lack of sufficient archaeological, oral and historical data to effectively visualize a Northern Iroquoian longhouse. As such, academic and artistic license as well as time and cost of production will be required to enable only one potential visual interpretation. That the intended technology cannot delivery the virtual effect intended or that the artistic or technical talent required is either unavailable or beyond the scope of my personal skills.

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 Iroquoian Longhouse 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 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.

This project will be disseminated in multiple forms. The 3D virtual environment and all assets will be made available as an open source tool for the continued use by scholars, Descendants and the public. The accompanying blog and Twitter feeds will provide an ongoing deployment of “paradata” to support the development of continued debate and development of the virtual environment. A conference paper will be proposed and it is my intention to publish on the findings of this work.

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