‘And here,’ he said, stopping on a more or less level plot with a ring of large trees, ‘is Baxter’s Roman villa.’
‘Baxter?’ said Mr Fanshawe.
‘I forgot; you don’t know about him. He was the old chap I got those glasses from. I believe he made them. He was an old watchmaker down in the village, a great antiquary.’
In his short story, ‘Dead Men’s Eyes or A View from a Hill’, Montague Rhodes James tells us a story of a Mr. Fanshawe who discovers a pair of field glasses [bins] made by an eccentric antiquarian. When he looks through them, he is shown a world that no longer exists:
‘A good deal more to the left -it oughtn’t to be difficult to find. Do you see a rather sudden knob of a hill with a thick wood on top of it? It’s in a dead line with that single tree on the top of the big ridge.’
‘I do,’ said Fanshawe, ‘and I believe I could tell you without much difficulty what it’s called.’
‘Could you now?’ said the squire. ‘Say on.’
‘Why, Gallows Hill,’ was the answer.
‘How did you guess that?’
‘Well, if you don’t want it guessed, you shouldn’t put up a dummy gibbet and a man hanging on it.’
‘What’s that?’ said the squire abruptly. ‘There’s nothing on that hill but wood.’
“There’s nothing on that hill but wood”. That is the trouble with being an archaeologist, most of the really interesting things that we want to see are either buried, covered with trees/buildings or have fallen down never to be seen again. This is especially apparent when dealing with sites in the landscape. When I am walking around a ‘historic landscape’, how do I see Fanshawe’s gory gibbet? I can read a book, look on a map or find an old photo or engraving of the area. But what if I wanted the medieval gibbet to seamlessly be part of the landscape as I walk around? I don’t want to make a special feature of it, I just want it to be there almost unnoticeable, so that it becomes part of my normal everyday world. Perhaps then it is possible to realise what it would have been like living with a gibbet in my backyard, sitting on top of the hill and being an integral part of the landscape in which I live.
This, then, is what this blog is about, bringing elements of the past into the present. Not by forcing them down your throat, but simply by bringing them back into existence, and letting them just be. We can then examine our experiences of them and maybe gain some insight into what the world may have been like for past peoples.
In order to experiment with this I am going to be using Augmented Reality (AR) – a way of blending the virtual world with the real world. If you don;t know what it is – take a look at this video. It uses a bunch of computer-trickery to create and display the virtual objects, but the main idea is that you are able to live in your normal world, but have virtual elements augmented into it. This might be arrows floating around pointing out the nearest StarBucks or it might be a full 3D reconstruction of a Roman villa. AR is mostly being used at the moment for advertising and smartphone games that involve shooting aliens invading your front room. However, the technology is advancing at a blistering rate and amazing things are on the horizon.
AR is a bit of a mind-bending concept, so over the next few weeks and months I will be posting thoughts, progress, videos and ideas – which should hopefully make it clearer to both you and me!