Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Peopling the past

It has become clear to me lately why computer scientists and anthropologists may have avoided working together to create models and reconstructions in the past. We have very different mindsets.

Our class has been broken down into interest groups, with Sarah Peterson and I constituting the 'human modeling and reconstruction' group. We are both anthropology majors with no digital media design or modeling experience whatsoever. I feel that we have the interest, but not the experience, to make a project work, since we tried to enlist the help of one of the DMD students (Mark?) and he gave us a speech on how we should focus on modeling just one body. We could use measurements from our own bodies if we wanted. We should then focus on sticking a few different faces on this single form to represent native men, women, and children, and copy/paste these people a bunch of times in our model. Accuracy and individuality be damned, we just needed a crowd of people to people the past the class was creating.

This plan was not even remotely similar to the one that Sarah and I had discussed. We wanted to find the measurements (or averages of measurements) of skeletons in the museum that date to around the time and place of the Tiwanaku settlement. We would create prototypes of one man, one woman, one child, if we could manage. Then we could manipulate them slightly, since body types vary considerably. We agreed that it has looked rather odd when the people in the reconstructions we have seen have all shared the same body type, on different scales. Children, for example, do not share adult proportions.

We tried explaining our perspective to the computer specialist, but he shrugged us off and talked over us. Sarah told him that she would rather make one accurate person than a tribe of people with inaccurate proportions and facial features. He seemed to have trouble with this, but it turned out that he was not actually going to help us anyhow. He informed us that he was more interested in working with another group. After he had had left the meeting, Sarah looked at me and asked,

"Did you agree with a single thing he said?"

"No," I responded, "it's a different approach. We don't have to take it if we don't want to." I personally was not thrilled with the idea of basing ancient Inca/Aymara people on my Scandinavian features. It did not seem accurate or ethical. People seeing our reconstruction should see individuals similar to the ones who lived in Tiwanaku.


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