Seeing the Past from Nowhere: Images and Science in Archaeology

Laurent Dissard


Between 1968 and 1975, international and multidisciplinary rescue excavations were undertaken in Eastern Turkey before the construction of the Keban Dam. This article focuses on three specific visual techniques (the artifact typology, the trench shot, and the gridded map) found in the site reports of this salvage project, in order to analyze the way archaeology visually defines its object(s) of study. While scientific excavations make discoveries of the past visible, their representations in the discipline’s final publications conceal the human agents responsible for them. In other words, as tools of visualization foreground archaeological knowledge, the conditions of its production are concurrently sidelined. By relegating the messy process of “digging” to the background, archaeology’s techniques of visualization allow its practitioners to see the past, and all of its objects, from a distant present located “nowhere.”

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