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Archaeological Reconstruction

Vivid archaeological and historical reconstructions of historical monuments (drawings or paintings; actual or virtual 3-D models) are more and more considered to be an essential element in helping visitors to better appreciate and understand a historical monument and the history of its development - a history that may be irrecoverably lost or concealed by the erosion of time, by human interference during subsequent development or, indeed, by modern restoration.

As well as adding significant value to the visitor experience, reconstructions serve also to bring together the available archaeological and historical research (1). Reconstruction drawings can be sold as postcards and posters that can be taken away by visitors to extend the experience of their visit. They also act as vivid advertisements for potential future visitors.

Perhaps the best known reconstruction artist in Britain and Ireland is Alan Sorrell (1904-1974), who travelled the length and breadth of England and Wales, bringing to vivid life ancient monuments from prehistory to post-medieval times. Though he often took a grounded viewpoint for his reconstructions, he largely pioneered the aerial viewpoint that allowed the variety of buildings and their arrangement on complex sites to be represented.

For me, Alan Sorrell's imaginative reconstructions of the castles of north Wales were an inspiration, stimulating my own first efforts while still a schoolboy. To this day, I often refer to a childhood scrapbook - adorned with rub-on transfers of early Star Trek characters that came free with my morning cereal - containing a series of Alan Sorrell postcards.

Reconstructions recreate buildings and other features of archaeological sites from fragmentary remains or where they have been buried in subsequent redevelopment. They cannot be exact reproductions of what was there, but are a picture of probability - a picture of what is in the archaeologist's eye. Ideally the artist will use all available archaeological evidence to place reconstructed buildings in their historical context to create a peopled landscape 'that provides scale and actuality' (2).

What qualities make for a good reconstruction artist? I gave a lecture in 2006 in which I summarised what these might be, based on my own experience. Here is the PowerPoint slide I showed then.

(1) See for example Picturing the Past by Brian Davison, published by English Heritage in 1997

(2) D.W. Dykes, Sec. Nat. Mus. Wales, in Alan Sorrell: Early Wales Re-created, published by the National Museum of Wales in 1980

Round tower, Ardfert, Co. Kerry


Copyright © 2007 Daniel Tietzsch-Tyler