Visibility studies in archaeology have been criticized because they tend to emphasize the importance of vision over other senses. The burgeoning field of sensory anthropology argues that the relative significance of visual, olfactory, acoustic and haptic (touch) senses varies cross-culturally, and is a function of how human beings interact with their particular environments. The Canadian Arctic is a unique sensory environment because prolonged periods of winter darkness make artificial light essential for everyday tasks. In this paper, we use 3D computer modelling to simulate the levels of light produced by the small stone lamps used inside pre-contact Thule Inuit winter dwellings. The results demonstrate that interior light levels fall well below those recommended by Western architectural standards for tasks requiring high levels of visual acuity. We conclude that this may have influenced where activities were situated inside the dwelling and encouraged greater use of touch relative to vision when performing tasks such as sewing and carving.
Simulating the behaviour of light inside Arctic dwellings: implications for assessing the role of vision in task performance
World Archaeology 39, Issue 1, pages 17-35, 2007, 10.1080/00438240601136397.