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Theoretical Concerns


Virtual Sirkap is a representation of the now extinct city at 100 CE. As such, it raises at least three concerns: (1) the ontological status of the represented place, (2) the mode and medium of representation and the ways in which they are socially constructed, interpreted and deployed, and (3) the accuracy with which the medium represents the place in question.

For the authors of this paper, place is a social, historical and spatial phenomenon. By that we mean that the meaning of a given place changes according to the specificities of the society, the time and the physical attributes in which this place is interpreted. For example, a given classroom, as a place, may mean something for an American student and something else for a Chinese student who just came to the U.S. for study. The same classroom has a third meaning for an American student who used to study in the same place 20 years ago. And if we change the physical settings of the classroom, the meaning changes for all three students.

Place is also heterogeneous; it affords a multiplicity of mixed and sometimes contradicting meanings that juxtapose each other and yet they don’t negate each other. For example, a classroom may be understood simultaneously as a place of ecstasy by a student and a place of agony by his classmate. Ecstasy and agony co-exist within the class population despite their opposing meanings. Furthermore, the presence of one meaning does not necessary entail the absence of the other.

This poses a theoretical problem since any representation of place, regardless of its mode or its medium, tends to emphasize one interpretation of the given place and ignores the others. In the case of our project, Virtual Sirkap represents one interpretation of the old city and eventually ignores the rest. This is an inherent problem of representation that we reconcile by explicitly and critically addressing it.

In discussing representation, some working definitions are needed. One can choose to represent a certain place by drawing it. She may choose to do so on a paper using a pen or a tablet PC using a stylus. Drawing—as opposed to, for example, writing or video recording—is a “mode” of representation. A paper—as opposed to, for example, a tablet PC, or a camera—is a “medium” of representation.

Many archeologists are oblivious to the formative effect of representation on their work. Text has long been the dominant mode of representation for communicating scholarly ideas that many have erroneously assumed its neutrality. Linguists, literary critics and media theorists have long argued against the neutrality of text. It is well understood now that our own native language is instrumental in the ways in which we think about and represent ideas.

Ludwig Wittgenstein argues that the speaker of any language, whose thoughts are predetermined by his language, cannot distinguish between how things seem and how things are. Therefore, language itself is not aimed at reality; it is arbitrary (cite). The choice of medium also has a formative effect. Friedrich Kittler, for example, famously demonstrated that the writing style of Friedrich Nietzsche has changed when the prolific philosopher started using a typewriter (cite). A virtual reconstruction of place is mainly an eidetic reconstruction of the experience of this place: It primarily employs moving images and not text. The difference between the two modes of representation is the difference between showing and telling: a very contentious topic among scholars.

In this paper we are not interested in exposing the theoretical debate about the nature of text as opposed to images. Yet, we adopt W.J.T Mitchell’s position, drawn from the work of Wittgenstein, from which he argues that there is no isomorphic relationship between text and images, nor any of these two modes of representations and reality (cite). With these concerns in perspective, we had to build on previous archeological records of Sirkap. In most cases, this entailed making many arbitrary decisions regarding from, texture and spatial location of buildings and artifacts.