an artistic exploration of some archaeological theory

by Andrew Cochrane & Ian Russell
This series of art pieces seeks to contest traditional mechanisms for representation and spectatorship by questioning the status that visual images occupy in archaeological discourse. Photomosaics of iconic archaeologists and archaeological objects were constructed through the manufacture of archives and archaeological records of public images available over internet search engines. This digital ‘excavation’ of what is traditionally an unarchived public space marked the beginnings of our digital archaeological practice.Inspired by Joan Fontcuberta’s series of Googlegrams (2005), we call into question the ways in which archaeologists position themselves and their work within broader society. By conflating archaeological figures with a collage of public images, the pieces reveal the manufacture of representations of archaeological identities and of the artefacts and monuments with which they work. In addition, through the use of the world wide web and freeware, they also challenge the role that digital media are playing in the fabrication of collective archaeological visual memory, interpretation, and mediated information.We began by considering whether experience is ever truly documented or represented. Each (in)dividual piece subverts and parodies notions of ‘truth’ in archaeology and the veracity of dominant images in the construction of the past and present, memory, identity, gender, emotion and agency. Such a reflexive approach generates connections between unfamiliar essences, resulting in ruptured and fragmented yet dynamic archaeologies, histories and representations. Previous exhibitions: Akademia Wychowania Fizycznego, Cracow, Poland, 19-24 September 2006, European Association of Archaeologists, Bristol University, 10 – 12 November 2006, Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory University of Exeter, 15 – 17 December 2006, Theoretical Archaeology Group.

This series of exhibitions was made possible by a grant from the Trinity College Provost’s Fund for the Visual and Performing Arts and by the support of the Archaeological Illustration Department at Cardiff University. We would also like to acknowledge the support of Chris Witmore, Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown University.

Reflexive Representations [1]: South Metope XXVII

by Andrew Cochrane & Ian Russell

10 – 12 July 2006
Digital Photomosaic (100 × 100 cm) of a Pentelic Marble Metope (c. 137 × 137 × 15 cm) Detail below.

This photomosaic depicts South Metope XXVII (c. 440 bc) of the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, which is now located in Room 18 of the British Museum in London. This is one example from the series of 32 metopes which were located on the south side of the Parthenon whose marble, highrelief sculptural decoration depicted images from the Centauromachy — the mythological battle between the Lapiths and the Centaurs which began in Thessaly during the wedding feast of Peirithöos and Hippodaemeia (Ovid Metamorphoses 12.210–535). The myth is a Classical juxtaposition of, and conflict over, concepts of civility and barbarism. South Metope XXVII is also part of the group of sculptural works known as the Elgin Marbles which were brought to London from Athens by Thomas Bruce (1766–1841), Seventh Earl of Elgin, between 1800–1810. The collection was vested in the Trustees of The British Museum in perpetuity in 1816. The ownership of these sculptures by the British Museum is currently contested by the modern Greek nation state. The image is composed of a collage of 3600 ‘cell-images’ collected from unfiltered searches for the words ‘Britain’, ‘Greece’, ‘Elladda’, ‘Ellas’ and ‘ßretania’ through the Google ‘Image Search Engine’.


Each corner focuses on the images resulting from each search as follows:

Upper Left – ‘Britain’ Bottom Left – ‘Greece’ Upper Right – ‘Elladda’ and ‘Ellas’ Bottom Right – ‘ßretania’

The corner-focus of the images from each search term is utilized to make overt the structures through which some people understand and communicate identities visually and the impact of digital culture on these expressions. Yet as the viewer moves away from each corner, the divisions between these concepts are blurred and the composite image becomes a conflation of both mythical battles between civilizations and modern conflicts over the ownership of antiquities, identities and the linguistic expression of those identities. Thus the partibility of the image seeks to blur boundaries between conceived nation states and social identities through permeable exchanges between the visual representations of self and other. The viewer is invited to explore the ‘cell-images’ themselves and question their role within the composite whole — leading to questions of both the images’ and their own involvement in personal and national expressions of cultural identity and conflicts over images of civilization. This piece also highlights the conflict of issues of ownership of images and control of the methods of representation. In this conflict, we acknowledge the challenge to conceptions of copyright and intellectual property, and cite the tradition of artistic appropriation of publicly accessible images as responsible acts of subversion; such is the nature of collage.

This piece is on permanent display in the Department of Classics, Trinity College Dublin.

Reflexive Representations [2]: Professor Julian Thomas

Prof. Julian Thomas with Professor Julian Thomas, Theoretical Archaeology Group, Exeter (2006)
by Andrew Cochrane & Ian Russell

12 – 13 July 2006
Digital Photomosaic (90 × 110 cm) Detail below.

This photomosaic depicts Prof. Julian Thomas, Chair of Archaeology at University of Manchester and the Vice Chair of the Standing Committee for Archaeology. He was a Vice President of the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI) between 2001 and 2004, and remains a member of the RAI Council. He was the Secretary of the World Archaeological Congress between 1994 and 1999. He is a life member of the Collingwood Society, and is Associate Director of the AHRC Research Centre for Textile Conservation and Textile Studies. Professor Thomas has consistently incorporated theory and philosophy into his interpretations of the archaeological data. He has striven throughout his career to find new ways of understanding prehistoric societies which confront the prejudices and assumptions of the contemporary west, while further illuminating the relationships between archaeological knowledge and the modern condition. Professor Thomas has recently published several works on human entanglements with interpretations of time, culture, identity, and the modern episteme.

In this piece, we explore the titling of Professor Thomas’s two recent archaeological theory texts, Time, Culture and Identity (1996) and Archaeology and Modernity (2004). The image is composed of a collage of 3820 ‘cellimages’ resulting from unfiltered searches for the words ‘time’, ‘culture’, ‘identity’, ‘modernity’ and ‘archaeology’ through the Google ‘Image Search Engine’. This image highlights through its construct the prevailing modern ‘atomistic’ perspective, yet also by-passes it by stimulating new fluid engagements that perform within flows of flexible spectatorship. It explores visually how Thomas challenged the ordering of discrete entities into chronological sequences as a means of understanding the past through temporal succession, depicting it purely as a characteristic of modern Western thought. Thomas also argued that sequential or stratigraphic units are first described as free-standing entities, which are later connected to each other through isolated events or acts of intentionality.

Thomas has proposed that the modern concept of the ‘individual’ may not necessarily represent how non-Western people regard themselves. Instead, people may see themselves as a composite of substances and parts with the human body thought of as porous with elements, sensations and emotions continually flowing in and out in a cyclical fashion, both during life and after death. Thus, this image reflects (in)dividual, composite, permeable and partible aspects of personhood by presenting Professor Thomas via disparate parts and images, that produce a whole. The mixing of these digital cell images and parts in differing states reflects the movements of such essences. This notion is support in anthropology; for instance in Melanesia some people regard themselves as dividual persons that are partible. These partible people often give ‘parts’ of themselves away as a means of maintaining or creating networks and relations with others. An interesting instance of how some people conceptualize themselves as partible beings is demonstrated by the Polynesians of the Marquesas, who have separate names for specific body parts in addition to their own name. Each named part would have its own life that related to other named members of the body and the community as a whole. In another example of how some people transmit essences between persons, Jones has commented on how some of the Classic Maya thought of themselves as permeable, consisting of blood and bone. By exchanging or giving these elements, relationships were manufactured, and strengthened.20 By blending, and circulating fragmented images, we magnify these perspectives. The de-totalizing of the portrait of Thomas into fragments via digital cell images brings a dynamic new integrity to the presentation of Thomas as a whole. In such a scheme, one might argue that the now iconic Thomas is cosmogony, with digital cells being assimilated in processes of regeneration or transformation.

Reflexive Representations [3]: South Cross, Ahenny, Co. Tipperary

by Andrew Cochrane & Ian Russell

09 – 16 August 2006
Digital Photomosaic (100 × 173 cm) of Freestanding Sandstone Cross
(height: 267 cm;base: 122 × 117 × 45 cm; shaft: 48 × 35 cm; crosswidth: 135 cm)
Detail below.

This photomosaic depicts the west face of the South Cross at Ahenny, Co. Tipperary, Ireland (Discovery Map OSI. Sheet 75; Grid Ref: 413 291) (W 7°23’34.78″; N 52°24’43.1″). This is one of a pair of freestanding, decorated ‘high crosses’ in the churchyard known as the monastic site of Kilclispeen, located on a sloping field, straddling the border between the provinces of Munster and Leinster. This example is thought by Peter Harbison to be amongst the earliest surviving examples in Ireland, dating to the eighth century ad.21 The earliest literary reference to ó chrois áird (high cross) relates, however, to Clonmacnois, Co. Offaly, in ad 957. Although the extensive occurrence and survival of ‘high crosses’ is unique to Ireland, other striking examples are also known in England, Scotland and Wales, such as the Kildalton Cross, Isle of Islay, the Hebrides, Scotland (made from epidiorite in the ninth century ad) and the Carew Cross, Dyfed, Pembrokeshire, Wales (made from microtonalite in the eleventh century ad), which notably inspired the logo for Cadw (the Welsh Assembly Government’s historic environment division). This cross is composed of three sections — a base, shaft and capstone — and is carved from locally available sandstone. This example is decorated with non-representational geometric and ‘interlacing’ designs, such as ‘Stafford knots’ which adorn the top of the cross. The cross is also punctuated by five bosses, and the base is decorated by hunting scenes which are now well worn. These interlinked coils and interlacing motifs are popularly referred to as ‘Celtic’, ‘knotwork’ or ‘Celtic knotwork’. Although the original purpose of the crosses or the cause for their erection are unknown, the ‘high cross’ today performs as an icon of Christianity, Celtic culture and traditional craftsmanship. In particular, the ‘high cross’ was a regularly used symbol in the nationalist cultural revival in Ireland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as grave markers and public political monuments. Throughout England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the crosses are legally titled ‘national monuments’ — the same legal status given to the modern political and cultural monuments which schematically mimic their form. Today, crosses such as this example, have been replicated as ‘Celtic Cross’ jewellery and are marketed to tourists as souvenirs or signifiers of ‘Celtic Christian’ identity. These schematic representations of the ‘high cross’ form, decorated with ‘Celtic knotwork’ and interlacing motifs have helped divorce the original objects’ form from their material context and created an abstract representation of modern aspirations for cultural authenticity.

This image is composed of 7200 ‘cell-images’ collected from unfiltered searches for the words ‘Celtic’, ‘Christianity’, ‘cross’ and ‘monument’ through the Google ‘Image Search Engine’. In doing so, these now iconic terms are juxtaposed with the material icon. The viewer is invited to explore the visual association between the public ‘monument’ of the South Cross at Ahenny and the public images associated with the words most commonly used to describe the object. This juxtaposition makes overt the conflict of images and crisis of meanings that are inherent in these textual terms that seek to understand visual images and material agency.

Reflexive Representations [4]: Sir Mortimer Wheeler

by Andrew Cochrane & Ian Russell

18 August – 04 September 2006

Digital Photomosaic (90 × 110 cm)

Detail below.

This photomosaic depicts Sir Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler (1890–1976), one of the most iconic British archaeologists of the twentieth century. During his archaeological career Wheeler was Director of the National Museum of Wales, Keeper of the London Museum, Director-General of Archaeology in India and Chair of the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. During the First World War he served with the Royal Artillery holding the rank of Major, being awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and initiative. During the Second World War Wheeler earned the rank of Brigadier and served at both El Alamein, northern Africa and the Salerno landings in Italy. Wheeler excelled at warfare and archaeology with equal measure. Wheeler’s major archaeological skills were demonstrated through excavation, administrative organization, the creation of successful National Museums and the increased presentation of archaeology to the media and general public. Wheeler advanced archaeological method by following Lieutenant General Pitt-Rivers and working with Dame Kathleen Kenyon, and advocated the importance of stratigraphy. Whilst in India, Wheeler conducted now classic excavations at Harrappa and Mohenjo-daro in the Indus Valley, exploring the remains of the civilizations that lived there. Wheeler was one of the first who believed that archaeology needed public support, and utilized all available media to present the discipline to a mass audience. His most popular and famous book was entitled Still Digging (1956), in which he depicted his adventures in archaeology.

In this piece, the image is composed of a collage of 3262 ‘cell-images’ resulting from unfiltered searches for the words ‘warfare’, ‘Still Digging’, ‘civilizations’, ‘national museum’ and ‘stratigraphy’ through the Google ‘Image Search Engine’. Exploring the concept of stratigraphic method, this piece excavates the Google ‘Image Search Engine’, to further reveal the digital contexts of specific images. Just as each excavated deposit is characterized by a particular position in the composition and sequence of a site, digital and visual information is used to create a pattern or montage against which other elements of interpretation can be studied. In doing so, the Wheeler Photomosaic further illuminates how seemingly disparate elements from the world, when viewed from an appropriate perspective and distance, can generate new understandings and thoughts.

Reflexive Representations [5]: Professor Marija Gimbutas

by Andrew Cochrane and Ian Russell

20 – 23 October 2006

Digital Photomosaic (90x121cm)

Detail below.

This photomosaic depicts Professor Marija Gimbutas (1921-1994). Born in Vilnius, Lithuania, Gimbutas emigrated to the United States of America in 1949. Before leaving Europe she earned her Ph.D. in archaeology at Tübingen University in Germany. She was appointed to a fellowship at the Peabody Museum at Harvard University in 1955, and from 1963 to 1989 she was professor of archaeology at UCLA. Gimbutas specialised in studies of the Indo-European Bronze Age as well as on Lithuanian folk-imagery and the prehistory of the Baltic regions. Public notoriety outside of academia was generated by with her last three books: The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe (1974), The Language of the Goddess (1989), which inspired an exhibition in Wiesbaden, Hessen, Germany (1993/94), and The Civilization of the Goddess (1991), which presented an overview of her interpretations about Neolithic societies in Europe, focusing on dwelling patterns, social structure, art/visual culture, figurines, religion and the nature of literacy. These books advanced what she saw as the differences between the Old European system, which she considered goddess-centered and matriarchal (gynocentric or gylanic), and the Bronze Age Indo-European patriarchal (androcratic) social elements. According to Gimbutas, matriarchal societies were peaceful, they honoured homosexuals, and they espoused economic equality. Whereas the later patriarchal Kurgan people invaded Europe and foisted upon its indigenous people the hierarchical rule of warrior males. This Kurgan invasion hypothesis, combined archaeological study of the distinctive Kurgan burial mounds with linguistics, produced an attempt to unravel some problems in the study of the Proto-Indo-European speaking people. Gimbutas’ interpretations of European prehistory challenged many traditional scholarly assumptions and relentlessly strove to discover meanings and sophisticated religious symbolism in images and figurines of the female form.

In this piece, the image is composed of a collage of 5761 ‘cell-images’ resulting from unfiltered searches for the words ‘Kurgan’, ‘goddess’, ‘gods’, ‘mother’ and ‘figurines’ through the Google ‘Image Search Engine’. The viewer is invited to explore through these images, amongst other things, the difficulties that interpretations of art and imagery, particularly that of the past, can face in the light of modern notions of male:female sex and gender bi-polarity; femaleness; femininity; associations of the female form with reproduction and fertility; the power of the gaze; objectifications of anatomical sexes with conceptions of genders; and the ability of images to subvert social norms, encouraging people to re-think their relationships with and understandings of both their own bodies and those of others.

Reflexive Representations [6]: Whitchurch Bronze Socketed Axehead

by Andrew Cochrane and Ian Russell

02 – 03 November 2006

Digital Photomosaic (80x158cm)

Detail below.

Sometime in the late third millennia BC in England, people began to alloy tin with copper to create bronze. By alloying these elements (c. 10-12% tin and 88-90% copper), smiths were able to lower the melting point of copper, reduce oxygen absorption, increase the metal flow, improve castings and produce more complex shapes. This image depicts a bronze socketed axehead, discovered at the site ofWhitchurch, a Late Bronze Age midden and occupation complex in Warwickshire, England. Middens are complex sites which develop at the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age transition. This piece was deposited in a focal place where groups of people periodically gathered together, away from the daily routine that is often associated with permanent settlements. The site is currently under the directorship of Kate Waddington and Niall Sharples from Cardiff University. The preliminary excavation at Whitchurch in September 2006 produced the largest assemblage of finds for prehistoric Warwickshire. This demonstrates the tremendous importance of the site for the area and for Britain as a whole in this period.

The image is composed of a collage of 4315 ‘cell-images’ resulting from unfiltered searches for the words ‘tin’, ‘copper’ and ‘bronze’, through the Google ‘Image Search Engine’. These words were chosen as they constitute the materials and alloy of the socketed axehead. Some scholars have argued that archaeologists tend to focus more on the materiality of objects and material culture, than the materials themselves. The concerns are that current archaeologists engage more with abstract ruminations of theorists and philosophers than with the tangible elements with which craftspeople and manufacturers create. This ‘return to the materials’ approach runs the risk of encouraging essentialist understandings of the nature of physical materials. The viewer is therefore invited to explore the cell-images in this mosaic and the multiple visual associations relating to the etymologies of such ‘basic’ materials and essences.

Reflexive Representations [7]: Ford Transit Van J641 VUJ

by Andrew Cochrane & Ian Russell

12-14 December 2006 Digital Photomosaic (90x130cm)

Detail below.

This photomosaic depicts a Ford transit van which was excavated in July 2006 by archaeologists from the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol and Atkins Heritage. This van was routinely used for field archaeology projects (1991-1999) before it became primarily involved in works and maintenance (1999-2005). Archaeologists John Schofield, Cassie Newland and Anna Nilsson, and filmmaker and archaeology screen media student Greg Bailey provided the following report:

‘The van was donated to the project by the Ironbridge Gorge Museum, and moved to Bristol for excavation. This was to be like any conventional excavation: we proposed to dismantle the van systematically and – at times – forensically, recording all features, structures, deposits and artefacts, as well as introducing specialists for particular tasks. We were interested in how the van had been treated; what condition it was in; and what stories the artefacts, body work and engine parts could tell us. Do they contribute to a single narrative, or multiple narratives each emphasising different degrees of care and attention? Can we distinguish ‘drivers’ from ‘owners’ for example? What could forensics tell us – we understood the potential from police investigations, but in terms of the everyday, what could we learn about the uses to which the van was put?’

The image is composed of 2,784 ‘cell images’ collected through unfiltered searches for the words ‘van’, ‘transit’, ‘archaeology’ and ‘contemporary’. The relationships between the resulting images render overt assumptions regarding the processes of archaeological excavation and knowledge production. The multiple and potentially conflicting images invite the viewer to explore their own understandings (as well as other objects and machines – and archaeological process in general) as totalities and networks of mediated relations.

This piece is on permanent display at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum, Telford U.K.

Reflexive Representations [8]: Mesolithic Axehead, Lough Boora, Co. Offaly

by Andrew Cochrane & Ian Russell

28-29 February 2008 Digital Photomosaic (89x114cm)

Detail below.

This photomosaic depicts a Mesolithic Axehead made from mudstone that was discovered in archaeological excavations at Lough Boora, Co. Offaly. It is dated to c. 6800 – 7000 cal BC, making it one of the earliest known examples of human technology in Ireland. The climate was warmer and drier than today, and Mesolithic people subsisted via hunting and gathering a varied diet of wild meat, fish, plants and fruits, with their equipment mostly being made from stone, bone, wood, animal and plant materials. Diversity and mobility were the keys to Mesolithic survival. Stone tools in the Mesolithic were made through the fragmentation of larger stones. These fractured parts were then often combined with other objects, e.g. a stone axehead with a wooden shaft.

The axehead image above is composed of 4730 ‘cell-images’ resulting from searches for the words ‘Mesolithic’, ‘hunter gatherer’, ‘technology’, ‘axehead’ and ‘mudstone’, through the Google ‘Image Search Engine’. In doing so, the image renders explicit some of the tensions in contemporary Mesolithic archaeology, in understanding both the macro and micro scales of life. From a distance, the photomosaic highlights how a Mesolithic axehead may look from a broad perspective. Yet as one draws closer, the cell-images illuminate the rich mosaic and mixture of people and things in the world. As a form of ‘macrolithic’ technology, this Mesolithic axehead would have expressed and created multiple relationships, identities and ways of being. Technology is not passive and inert, and interactions with technology in the Mesolithic may have been just as fluid and ubiquitous as today.

This photomosaic explores the diverse dimensions of relations with people and things – technology here is not distinct from other spheres of life. As Mesolithic axeheads were made by abstracting and fracturing the things of the world, here we attempt to express, combine and mediate some of the contemporary senses of these things via digital composition.

The piece was commissioned by Kevin O’Dwyer and is on permanent display in the Pavillion of Sculpture in the Parklands, Lough Boora Parklands, Co. Offaly.



Cochrane, A. & I. Russell 2007 ‘Visualising Archaeologies: A Manifesto’, Cambridge Archaeological Journal, vol. 17(1), 3-19.

Robb, J. & O. J. Harris 2013 ‘Body worlds and their history: Some working concepts’ in J. Robb & O. J. Harris (eds) The Body in History: Europe from the Palaeolithic to the Future, Cambridge University Press. Reproduction and discussion on pages 28-29.



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