Not so long ago, I was thinking about the process of archaeological reconstruction and how I see the results in contrast to a visitor in a museum for example. I started a small survey among my friends and family and realized, that most people take the restitutions seen in museums, television or magazines for granted. As archaeologists, we know that reconstructions are merely a visualised theory and that there are different ways to interpret archaeological data. This is not always the case with a broader audience.

The way from excavated data to a visualised reconstruction in a museum is long and complicated. Often, where the archaeological evidence is scarce, parallels from other excavations, sometimes of different regions or periods, texts or cultural anthropology have to help. Therefore, a restitution can never be exact. Of course, scientific reconstructions offer more accuracy than non-scientific ones, but nevertheless, it will never be a 100% correct.

I think this is not comprehensible for visitors in museums, children in schools or everyone else in front of the TV. In my opinion, we (the archaeologists, curators, teachers, film-makers) have to communicate this fact far more clearly and there is actually no reason not to do so. Besides simply saying that a restitution is maybe not a 100% correct, there are many ways to present this: one could show alternatives, highlight uncertain parts of a reconstruction or differentiate between the different sources that led to the restitution and point that out. I think, the audience will understand and actually welcome the participation in the archaeological thinking process.

In this small example you can clearly distinguish between excavated remains and reconstructed upper part. This graphic shows the Anu-Antum-temple in Uruk of the Seleucid period. If you are interested, you can read more about it here.

Material: © DAI