Enchanting spaces of time-past: Investigating the effects of reading metaphors on public engagement with archaeological remains

Dimitra Ntzani

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Background: Archaeological remains are often discussed as ‘palimpsests’, the dismantled ‘manuscripts’ that wait to be ‘read’. Once ‘deciphered’ and recorded, ‘storytelling’ or ‘narrative’ approaches shape their communication. These expressions are indicative of a prevailing metaphorical model that conceptualizes archaeological remains as inscriptions. The model, a loan from memory literature, shapes both professional and public engagement with past remains.
Aims: Storytelling, the enactment of the reassembled archaeological ‘script’, is the last stage of the reading process, and a metonymic model that has both enhanced and constrained the design of archaeological galleries and programmes. To escape its spell (Reddy 1979), the paper examines alternative forms of engagement that reading
metaphors structure and focuses on the critical readings of archaeological sites by archaeologists.
Method: The research presupposes that metaphorical models are experientially and culturally grounded (Lakoff and Johnson 1980). It employs the means of cognitive ethnography (Hutchins 2003), the micro/macro analysis of original video recordings, to examine the effects of reading metaphors on archaeological workshops managed
as public engagement programmes.
Results: Comparative analysis shows that while the storytelling model presupposes a form of containment, establishes flow, and provides coherent responses to a non-enquiring audience. Archaeological readings evolve as systematically disruptive processes that anchor participants to points of interest and encourage them to explore.
Conclusions: By investigating the vices and virtues that reading models bring to the heritage domain, I propose an alternative museography; one that conceptualises public engagement not as containment in the repositories of inherited bjects, but as the puzzling navigation in the vast fields of time-past.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSpace and Situated Cognition
Subtitle of host publicationProceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Spatial Cognition (ICSC 2015)
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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