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 2: The benefits
How can we benefit from reconstructions? In which ways can they help to understand or add to archaeological research? I want to look at this from two different angles: benefits for the scientific community (helping archaeological research) and benefits for a broader public (visualisations in museums, magazines or the internet). Both are equally important, nevertheless have different rules and concerns.
First of all, a reconstruction is never 100% correct. While reconstructing, one can only try to come as close as possible to what reality was (or might have been for that matter). Therefore, a combination of archaeological evidence, philological traces and constructional thoughts has to be used to accomplish a result that represents the most reliable model.¹ Opinions differ and there is always more than one possibility. Simple 3D-models can compare different methods and theories and can therefore be used for further discussions.
Also, during the virtual building process new questions arise. While constructing roofs or stairways one has to think the whole process through. Often it becomes clear, that before-thought solutions do not work and one has to come up with a different one. Only during this process one can fully understand the building. It sounds redundant, but reconstructing actually helps the reconstruction.
A third reason: Virtual reconstructions can combine and show – at a glance – several different research results. Normally you have to get through a whole lot of archaeological reports to begin to understand the complete structure. With an image, you can put all that together and combine architectural, pictorial, textual and cultural results.²
Reconstructions for a broader public
Here, the benefit of presenting complicated archaeological research to a wider audience seems obvious. In exhibitions, it is always clearer to use reconstructions rather than architectural plans, which only archaeologists and architects can truly understand. With the help of a reconstruction, the visitor can get a feeling how the ancient world might have looked like. Of course, the uncertainty needs to be communicated, but we will come to this in the next part.
Also, it is possible to show how archaeologists work. One could visualize the difference between archaeological remains and reconstruction, to show an audience what actually survives. These informations are not only interesting for archaeologists, they are also sought by the interested audience. With intelligent visualisation, it is easy to present and understand.
In the last post of this multi-part article, I already mentioned that the way we will present archaeological reconstructions will change in the future. Due to new technology, wandering around ancient Babylon, Rome or Machu Picchu will become possible. But how should we perceive these visualisations? Is it not dangerous to present a past, that most certainly was – at least a bit – different? In the next part of this article, I will talk about the problems of reconstructions and things we need to consider when presenting them. Schmid, J. 2009: Moderne Zeiten. Die Rekonstruktion des Palastes, in: Schätze des Alten Syrien. Die Entdeckung des Königreichs Qatna (Exhibition catalogue), Stuttgart, 193-197.  Micale, M.G. 2008: The course of the images. Remarks on the architectural Reconstructions in the 19th and 20th centuries: The case of the Ziqqurrat, in: Córdoba, J.M. et al. (Hrsg.), Proceedings of the 5th ICAANE (Madrid, April 3-8 2006), Madrid, 572.