Accepted Paper:

Facing up to facelessness: constructing virtual humans in archaeological visualisations  
Ellen Finn (Trinity College Dublin)

Paper short abstract:

Faceless avatars haunt our everyday. Whether on Twitter, Facebook or otherwise, we are constantly confronted with human-like figures that lack any discernible facial characteristics. But what challenges arise when these faceless 'grey agents' come to populate digital archaeological visualisations?

Paper long abstract:

Virtual human bodies are at first glance the most evocative element of a visualisation of the past, our empathetic eyes immediately and instinctively drawn to even the simplest silhouette similar to our own form. Indeed, we are all hard-wired specialists: our brain intuitively reacting and recognizing the use of 3D characters that are physically dissimilar to our human selves.

Yet, in many archaeological visualisations, we are met with textureless, faceless mannequin-type figures, often acting as glorified scale-bars for the architectural visualisation within which they are placed. They are identifiably human in form, yet lack the very individuating facial characteristics we are cognitively accustomed to recognise. These 'grey agents' are fundamentally visualisations of ancient people(s) and thus elicit certain presuppositions on the basis of their basic bodily forms. Their production begs the question of why, when virtual humans are often cited as 'repeopling' the past, are we content with a singular 'repersoning'? Is the depiction of faceless, clone-like human figures on the basis of fragmentary data a denial of the diversity and individuality of the people of the past? Is it ethical?

This paper will work to highlight that it is this duality that we confront fundamental complications in the creation of virtual human physiques: our data is partial, yet the resultant figure must be whole; we might wish to include human figures in our archaeological visualisations, but we must recognise that the use of individuals' remains as formative data continually blurs the line between deceased and digital.

Panel P080
Depiction of the Dead: ethical challenges and cognitive bias