'Modalities of Meaning: Light and Shadow in archaeological images’


in The Oxford Handbook of Light in Archaeology: Interdisciplinary Studies in Experience and Perception

(eds.) Graeme Earl and Konstantine Papadopoulos. Oxford University Press. Forthcoming.

Images do many things: they capture data, they analyse and explain it in very particular ways; they are used as evidence to give weight to arguments; they stand in for the original; they contain and convey information to specialists and the public alike and they do this by transforming vastly complex and unknown material into usable and visible form. But they are not neutral. All images are sign systems that are more or less effective for the uses they have been chosen. Some are even purposefully misleading pointing to what is not, in fact, there. This essay explores the phenomenon of light in pictorial images showing it’s many and varied applications in archaeological and rock art imaging and how each genre carries with it conceptual, metaphysical and phenomenological weight. Examples from fine art are used as examples to explain some of the genres used in archaeological illustration and their links to past and present conventions of visual imaging.

Photographs of the unreconstructed ‘mother goddess’ figure
The first line drawings of the figure were rendered as if the figure had been excavated intact without attention being drawn to the reconstructed sections. The way light has been rendered in the drawing suggests that the figure is gazing down, demurely, at the shape between her legs - supposedly the birth of her ‘son.’