Google Earth fuelling ‘armchair archaeology’
TRADITIONALLY, ARCHAEOLOGY HAS involved a lot of digging through both archives and dirt, as well as being in the right place at the right time. But the last decade has seen the development of a completely new tool, says Dr David Thomas, a pioneer of the field of satellite archaeology.
“The detail in many of the images is astonishing and allows archaeologists to investigate sites without leaving the safety of their offices,” says David, who is from Melbourne’s La Trobe University and gave a talk today on ‘armchair archaeology’ at the Melbourne Museum.
“While this has obvious advantages, it also presents archaeologists with new problems and challenges,” he says.
This has yet to really take off, IMO, even though it’s been used a lot. Once you get the ground-truthing out of the way (difficult in some places) you can really start to apply spatial models to the sites that are discovered. Heck, just counting the mounds in a given area would be enormously helpful, although you’d still need to date them by some means. But doing that — a surface survey of already-located mounds — is way more cost effective than starting out on the ground with a blank slate.
Body of Evidence: UT using donated corpses in mass grave project with international aspirations
While the images can pick up large graves filled with hundreds of people, it’s more difficult to locate the more common plots with 10 or 20 or 30 bodies, said Dawnie Steadman, director of the Forensic Anthropology Center at UT who has also done extensive human-rights work in Argentina, Cyprus and Spain.
“So the focus of this project is on those smaller graves and trying to see if we can get the acumen of the technology to be that fine-grained,” said Steadman, whose role in the project is more of a logistics coordinator. “Are they only sensitive over fresh graves, and do we lose that sensitivity over time?
Very good stuff in that (nice and long) article. Especially interesting is the hypothesis of nitrogen enrichment from decomposing bodies.
Technology helps Mexican archaeologists find new structures at El Tajin archaeological zone
Three ball fields, a couple of edifications denominated “balconies”, and a housing building of more than a thousand years old, where located in the Archaeological Zone of El Tajin, in Veracruz, by archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). Ph.D Guadalupe Zetina Gutierrez, investigator in the Archaeological Zone of El Tajin, allowed some of the project’s advances to be revealed. These are part of the Management Plan of the Archaeological Zone. She detailed that by locating the three ball fields the number of structures similar to these in El Tajin ascends to 20. “All the ball games that can be found in the site are different in dimensions and characteristics and, in the case of the three new fields, we can determine details with a precision of up to 5 centimeters [1.96 inches], thanks to a technology called LiDar, a laser scanner with which they developed a digital model of the Geographic Information System”.
The image at the link is quite striking. I guess the one thing noted in there that I haven’t really mentioned too much is that it allows detailed surveys to be made in areas with difficult access or in very remote locations, not just those places you can get to, but spend an inordinate amount of time mapping. Excellent way to document the structures in a large region.
It also notes that they used thermal imaging, although I don’t know how that might work.
From The Beeb:
Archaeologists may not need to get their hands so dirty any more, thanks to the kind of digital technology being pioneered at Southampton University.
Its ‘µ-VIS Centre for Computed Tomography’ possesses the largest, high energy scanner of its kind in Europe: a ‘micro-CT’ machine manufactured by Nikon.
Capable of resolutions better than 0.1mm – the diameter of a human hair – it allows archaeologists to carefully examine material while still encased in soil.
An almost 5 minute video at the link (although it crapped out on me at about 3 minutes in). Worth watching, the scanning takes a LOT longer than I’d thought. I’ve posted on this before, basically seeing inside lumps of sediment and cemented globs of objects.
Aerial snow photos help archaeologists explore Wales’ landscape
Series of photographs showing archaeological (and historic) features that are brought out by snowfall. IIRC, a lot of effigy mounds in the midwest US can be seen more readily when snow is on the ground as well.
In an interesting application of remote sensing, ground penetrating radar was used last week to try to locate Jimmy Hoffa, missing since 1975. The latest chapter in the on-going cold-case investigation took place outside Detroit, where GPR was used to look for a possible body buried under a suburban driveway.
What do you people expect? His middle name is RIDDLE. (Truly, as in “James Riddle Hoffa”). As Dave Berry would say: I did NOT make this up!
Later, a sediment sample was taken for analysis.
The seemingly never-ending search for the remains of missing Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa hit another dead end Tuesday when soil results taken from the grounds of a home in Michigan showed no evidence that human remains were buried on the property.
(okay, so this is actually a photo of GPR being used for archaeological purposes in Jordan, and not a picture of Detroit. But it makes the post more archaeological).
Lidar article from the BBC.
Longish article, and there’s a neat little slideshow at the top giving some before/after shots.
Have archaeologists discovered lost Egyptian pyramids using Google Earth?
atellite archaeologist Angela Micol believes she may have stumbled upon two previously unidentified pyramid structures by using Google Earth. Located in Egypt, the sites contain distinct features and orientations that definitely suggest the potential presence of pyramids — a prospect that has local archaeologists eager to check it out.
I’m skeptical. They don’t give a location for them and the images shown appear to be in remote areas. Features that big anywhere near the Nile valley would surely have been noted before, and if these are way out in, say, the Western desert, it seems likely that they’d have been found before or that they’re just conical-shaped hills or mountains. But we’ll see, I guess.
High flying technology to map Peru ruins
Archaeologists in Peru are getting ready to fly an unmanned craft that could radically speed up data gathering at historical sites.
Usually, “mapping” is an extremely time consuming process and can take several years to complete.
New technology developed by archaeologists and engineers from Vanderbilt University, in the US, should accelerate this process.
The device will be tested later this month at the Mawchu Llacta site.
. . .
“If you could just fly this thing, it’d be a cheap way of acquiring high-resolution aerial data,” he told BBC News.
That last bit is the absolute key to it all: cheap, extensive, and good data.
And this link has basically the same stuff but with a short video with the actual drone.
Using LiDAR, filmmaker discovers “lost city”
Cinematographer Steve Elkins announced last week that by using LiDAR (light detection and ranging), he discovered “what appears to be evidence of archaeological ruins in an area long rumored to contain the legendary lost city of Ciudad Blanca.” The phrasing “lost city” is problematic, however: it’s hard to lose a city when the city itself is a myth.
The mapping project, conducted over 40 hours split between seven flights during April and May, was led by Elkins’ group, UTL Scientific. Participants include the thriller writer Douglas Preston, who is the former editor at the American Museum of Natural History. The project took place in conjunction with the government of Honduras with the help of technicians from the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping and professors from the University of Houston.
Kind of a minor squabble going on, described within. I’m on the side of those who take this sort of thing to be a major innovation. Although it is just another method for gathering data, it’s a tremendous tool for doing so. I agree with the point made that, even though the technology is expensive, it could be cheap in the long run if you get the same mapping data in a couple of days that would ordinarily take weeks or months or even years to accomplish. But, you know, it’s just a tool; you still need to explain the data.