One of our specialities and passions is the reconstruction and visualisation of ancient architecture. Virtual 3D-models make it possible to communicate a lot of information at a single glance. In this multi-part article I want to discuss the roots (Part 1), benefits (Part 2) and problems (Part 3) of archaeological reconstructions.
Part 1: The roots
One of the most famous ancient architecture is the Tower of Babylon. Since the 11th century AD, miniatures of the tower were made relying solely on the reports of European travellers.¹ The evolution of its visualisation developed simultaneously to history. Different artist rendered their version of the tower since the 14th century. One of the most famous paintings is the one made in 1563 by Pieter Bruegel (see above). None of these early images of the Tower of Babylon are based on any archaeological facts however.
Only since 1913, when the ruin of the ziggurat of Babylon was finally examined, it was possible to base the reconstructions on actual archaeological data. In 1915, Th. Dombart was the first to offer an archaeological reconstruction of the tower and in 1918 R. Koldewey followed him with his own interpretation. Since then, many proposals were made and discarded again. The latest version of the tower was shown in the Babylon exhibition 2008 in Berlin.
One could say, that since the late 19th/early 20th century, archaeological reconstructions have been around, but what is the purpose? Obviously, there is the matter of publishing archaeological content. Since the pioneers of archaeology, public appreciation of findings and results have always been important in order to ensure financial support. The drawings of Walther Andrae of Assur, Babylon or the Near East itself² were widely popular in its own time as well as now and most definitely helped painting a picture of a hitherto unknown world.³ For a non-scientific audience, visual reconstructions of ancient architecture is a simple way of understanding archaeological results.
The development of reconstructions in the last 100 years gradually changed the media in which they are displayed. First simple drawings and sketches or copper engravings, later isometric diagrams and virtual 3D-reconstructions. Soon, it will be possible to walk through a live-rendered version of ancient cities, merely recognising a virtual world. Technologies like the CryEngine or Oculus Rift make that already happen. The future of archaeological presentation and reconstruction is exciting and in the next part of this post, I will talk about the benefits of reconstruction on a public level as well a scientific one. Schmid, H. 1995: Der Tempelturm Etemenanki in Babylon, in: BaF 17, Mainz.  Andrae, W. 1988: Lebenserinnerungen eines Ausgräbers, Berlin. Andrae, E.W./Boehmer, R.M. 1992: Bilder eines Ausgräbers. Walther Andrae im Orient 1898-1919, Berlin.  Micale, M.G. 2008: European Images of the Ancient Near East at the Beginnings of the Twentieth Century, in: Schlanger, N./Nordbladh, J. (Eds.), Archives, Ancestors, Practices, New York/Oxford, 191-200.