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Archive as Archaeological Site: Visualizing the Erich Schmidt Excavations of Rayy
Abstract by Mr. Theodore Van Loan On Session III-18  (Recovering Rayy)

On Friday, December 2 at 8:30 am

2022 Annual Meeting

When the results of Erich Schmidt’s excavations of the city of Ray (Rayy) conducted between 1934-1936 were dispersed to various collections around the world, the Penn Museum acquired the meticulous archive of his team’s work. Among the materials on file, are a set of ground plans of excavation sites that show the built features of the sites as well as indications of the locations where excavation into lower strata were conducted. Alongside these maps, depth measurements are provided for each excavation pit. Using these graphic renderings, alongside the database of finds, one can reconstruct the excavation sites in three dimensions. This paper will present initial work that efforts to render these sites in a legible and intuitive way, and one that can be utilized for active research in the reconstruction of this important excavation. Moreover, the nature of this archive raises a number of crucial methodological questions for the field. The idea of a contemporary return to a data set created at the beginning of the 20th century is, in a way, a kind of archaeological practice in and of itself, that carries with it a host of dynamics including the analog/digital dyad, and how to overcome inevitable disparities between them. It is also important to note that this archive is only a partial record of the excavation, with the finds distributed among a number of institutions. The necessity of a virtual space in which these disparate elements can be housed becomes a crucial question, especially in light of the cultural heritage issues at play on the site, and the institutional disbursement of the finds and related archival materials. This paper will address these important methodological implications behind this work in an effort to draw together a new understanding of both the early 20th Century excavations practices of Schmidt, and also the potential for the excavation’s data set to provide new scholarly insights for our contemporary understanding of Rayy. In addition, this paper will explore how this project operates within an expanded definition of archaeological practice, as one that not only efforts to understand facts on the ground but also the archival record, as a site onto itself.
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