Visualising the unknown knowns in archaeology: why prehistory must not always look the same

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Standard Standard

Visualising the unknown knowns in archaeology: why prehistory must not always look the same. / Karl, Raimund.

Interpretierte Eisenzeiten 6: Tagungsbeiträge der 6. Linzer Gespräche zur interpretativen Eisenzeitarchäologie. ed. / Raimund Karl; Jutta Leskovar. Vol. 42 Linz : Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum, 2015. p. 141-152 (Studien zur Kulturgeschichte von Oberösterreich; Vol. 42).

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

HarvardHarvard

Karl, R 2015, Visualising the unknown knowns in archaeology: why prehistory must not always look the same. in R Karl & J Leskovar (eds), Interpretierte Eisenzeiten 6: Tagungsbeiträge der 6. Linzer Gespräche zur interpretativen Eisenzeitarchäologie. vol. 42, Studien zur Kulturgeschichte von Oberösterreich, vol. 42, Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum, Linz, pp. 141-152.

APA

Karl, R. (2015). Visualising the unknown knowns in archaeology: why prehistory must not always look the same. In R. Karl, & J. Leskovar (Eds.), Interpretierte Eisenzeiten 6: Tagungsbeiträge der 6. Linzer Gespräche zur interpretativen Eisenzeitarchäologie (Vol. 42, pp. 141-152). (Studien zur Kulturgeschichte von Oberösterreich; Vol. 42). Linz: Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum.

CBE

Karl R. 2015. Visualising the unknown knowns in archaeology: why prehistory must not always look the same. Karl R, Leskovar J, editors. In Interpretierte Eisenzeiten 6: Tagungsbeiträge der 6. Linzer Gespräche zur interpretativen Eisenzeitarchäologie. Linz: Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum. pp. 141-152. (Studien zur Kulturgeschichte von Oberösterreich).

MLA

Karl, Raimund "Visualising the unknown knowns in archaeology: why prehistory must not always look the same". and Karl, Raimund Leskovar, Jutta (editors). Interpretierte Eisenzeiten 6: Tagungsbeiträge der 6. Linzer Gespräche zur interpretativen Eisenzeitarchäologie. Studien zur Kulturgeschichte von Oberösterreich. Linz: Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum. 2015, 141-152.

VancouverVancouver

Karl R. Visualising the unknown knowns in archaeology: why prehistory must not always look the same. In Karl R, Leskovar J, editors, Interpretierte Eisenzeiten 6: Tagungsbeiträge der 6. Linzer Gespräche zur interpretativen Eisenzeitarchäologie. Vol. 42. Linz: Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum. 2015. p. 141-152. (Studien zur Kulturgeschichte von Oberösterreich).

Author

Karl, Raimund. / Visualising the unknown knowns in archaeology: why prehistory must not always look the same. Interpretierte Eisenzeiten 6: Tagungsbeiträge der 6. Linzer Gespräche zur interpretativen Eisenzeitarchäologie. editor / Raimund Karl ; Jutta Leskovar. Vol. 42 Linz : Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum, 2015. pp. 141-152 (Studien zur Kulturgeschichte von Oberösterreich).

RIS

TY - CHAP

T1 - Visualising the unknown knowns in archaeology: why prehistory must not always look the same

AU - Karl, Raimund

PY - 2015

Y1 - 2015

N2 - The act of reconstructing something from very fragmentary traces requires us to depict unknown knowns, things that we know existed, but of which we have no actual knowledge. We know that a posthole did once contain a post, but whether that post – at least above ground – was round or square, plain or highly decorated, or how high it was, is something we do not know. At best, we can make rough estimates, but usually those have a wide margin of error. In visualising that uncertainty, applying Occam’s razor – usually a sound scientific principle – is the worst possible choice: if always using the minimal assumptions necessary to reconstruct houses from posts, the outcome will necessarily be the same minimalistic result. And since a picture says more than a thousand words, we will impress a fundamentally false picture of the past on everyone’s mind: on that of the public; but also on our own, who are equally influenced by the illustrations we see in each other’s work.Thus, in this paper, I will argue that for making our reconstructions more reliable depictions of the past – not in terms of the details we show on each individual one, but in terms of the overall picture of the past we convey through reconstructions in general – we need to be radically creative. We need to produce, not just the reconstruction of how the object of our attempt most likely looked, but several reconstructions which show the range (the ‘standard deviation’) of conceivable possibilities of how it might have looked like – even if, for this purpose, we have to make maximal assumptions.

AB - The act of reconstructing something from very fragmentary traces requires us to depict unknown knowns, things that we know existed, but of which we have no actual knowledge. We know that a posthole did once contain a post, but whether that post – at least above ground – was round or square, plain or highly decorated, or how high it was, is something we do not know. At best, we can make rough estimates, but usually those have a wide margin of error. In visualising that uncertainty, applying Occam’s razor – usually a sound scientific principle – is the worst possible choice: if always using the minimal assumptions necessary to reconstruct houses from posts, the outcome will necessarily be the same minimalistic result. And since a picture says more than a thousand words, we will impress a fundamentally false picture of the past on everyone’s mind: on that of the public; but also on our own, who are equally influenced by the illustrations we see in each other’s work.Thus, in this paper, I will argue that for making our reconstructions more reliable depictions of the past – not in terms of the details we show on each individual one, but in terms of the overall picture of the past we convey through reconstructions in general – we need to be radically creative. We need to produce, not just the reconstruction of how the object of our attempt most likely looked, but several reconstructions which show the range (the ‘standard deviation’) of conceivable possibilities of how it might have looked like – even if, for this purpose, we have to make maximal assumptions.

KW - ARCHAEOLOGY

KW - THEORY & METHODS

KW - reconstruction

KW - Visual Perception

KW - prehistory

M3 - Chapter

SN - 978-3-85474-315-6

VL - 42

T3 - Studien zur Kulturgeschichte von Oberösterreich

SP - 141

EP - 152

BT - Interpretierte Eisenzeiten 6

A2 - Karl, Raimund

A2 - Leskovar, Jutta

PB - Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum

CY - Linz

ER -