The objective of the Archeology & Collections Program is to develop innovative methods, tools, and processes to better manage archeological resources. To meet this objective, the program utilizes digital data collection, modeling for site prediction and probability, and robust super computer processing.

NCPTT WELCOMES NEW ARCHEOLOGY & COLLECTIONS CHIEF

Tad Britt joined the staff of NCPTT as Chief of Archeology and Collections.

Tad Britt joined the staff of NCPTT as Chief of Archeology and Collections.

After a three-year interlude, the National Center has filled the vacant Chief of Archeology & Collections position, welcoming Tad Britt, RPA, to the staff in September, 2012. Britt has extensive experience with archeological technology, and comes to NCPTT from Compass Systems, Inc. where he oversaw development of site assessment tools. Prior to that, he spent fourteen years as an archeologist with the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Despite the absence of a full-time administrator, the Archeology & Collections Program remained active in FY2012. Two Preservation Technology & Training (PTT) Grants were awarded in the area of archeology and collections during the FY2012 cycle including, “Assessment of Mechanical Scanning Sonar in the Documentation of Submerged Cultural Resources” and “Poles, Posts and Canoes: the Preservation, Conservation and Continuation of Native American Monumental Wood Carving”. In addition, four reports from previous grant cycles were received this past year. Each project is summarized below.

LIDAR SURVEYOR: A TOOL FOR ARCHEOLOGICAL FEATURE DETECTION

With funding from a PTT Grant, staff at the University of Iowa Office of the State Archeologist have developed an automated tool to improve the identification of archeological features using Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) imaging data. LiDAR measures the time it takes an emitted laser pulse to return from any surface it encounters such as buildings, vegetation, cars, and ground surface, and calculates elevation values from that data. This method can be used to build a topographic model at a resolution fine enough to detect earthen archaeological features that would not be visible from high-resolution aerial photography.

The Iowa-based team developed an ArcGIS tool, LiDAR Surveyor, that automates the extraction of conical earthen features from LiDAR imagery. The tool was tested in ten areas of interest located in different landscape settings in Iowa and Minnesota. LiDAR Surveyor detected fifty-nine percent of the conical mounds at the twenty-eight test sites and detected eighty-nine percent of the sites overall. Mounds undetected by the tool were often objects that did not fit well with the conical mound morphology such as those that had been heavily cultivated, vandalized, or partially cut by roads or trails. The tool is available to professional archeologists and preservationists with permission from the University of Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist. The project report includes best practices in LiDAR data assessment and interpretation.

WORKSHOP AND SEMINAR EXPLORES ARCHEOLOGICAL SURVEY TECHNOLOGY

PTT Grant funding supported a six-day workshop and seminar at Longfellow House, George Washington’s former headquarters and a present-day National Historic Site in Cambridge, MA. The Archaeological Survey Technologies, Data Integration, and Applications Workshop and Seminar introduced new methods for the integration and visualization of non-invasive geophysical and 3D laser scanning survey methods for historic site preservation and management. The workshop trained participants in the practical application of data capture, processing, and 3D visualization, combining sub-surface and above-ground imaging to place Longfellow House in context within its surrounding historic landscape. Survey data generated during the workshop formed the core of presentations given during the subsequent seminar. The survey methods demonstrated, their results, and their integration for 3D visualization and analysis provided a comprehensive presentation of the process of non-invasive surveys and their use in historic site management. Participants discussed current work being done with these methods, described challenges to the advancement of non-invasive survey data, and looked toward future development and implementation of 3D archeological landscape visualization for site management and preservation.

A composite image showing the products of 3D laser scanning and ground penetrating radar at Longfellow House.

A composite image showing the products of 3D laser scanning and ground penetrating radar at Longfellow House.

 

TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER AIDS STUDY AND REPATRIATION OF HUMAN REMAINS

The transfer of technology from other fields to innovative uses in cultural resource management has been an imperative of the National Center since its inception. With the aid of a PTT Grant, Dr. Shannon Hodge at Middle Tennessee State University has introduced the use of commercially- available dental computer-aided design and manufacturing technologies (CAD-CAM) to create digitally and physically accurate models of human dental surfaces for archeological study. Human skeletal remains from archeological sites are often examined to determine historical information such as sex, age, and health, among other facts. The information from individuals can be used to better understand a population and the culture of a past people. This project leveraged a widely-available conventional technology in an unconventional way to accurately and efficiently preserve data from human skeletal remains.

Hodge’s research looked to existing CAD-CAM technology to create digitally and physically accurate models of human dental micro-topography precise enough to serve as a research grade replica for use after the original specimen is no longer available for analysis. This technique proved capable of capturing surface details with a degree of precision (four to twelve microns) far finer than is necessary to detect most pathological and cultural alterations to human teeth. While this technique is unable to observe internal features of teeth, it has the potential to streamline analyses that often delay legally-mandated reburial of remains from archaeological sites. It may also provide an answer to curation issues in that the cost of maintaining digital data is minimal when compared to funding and space requirements for physical objects.

DISSEMINATING SOFTWARE FOR DOCUMENTING SKELETAL REMAINS

A researcher at the Smithsonian digitally documents a human skull with the aid of Osteoware.

A researcher at the Smithsonian digitally documents a human skull with the aid of Osteoware.

When human remains are discovered or repatriated from museum collections, capturing data in a standard format is essential to informing archeological research. Osteoware, a software program designed to assist in the documentation of human skeletal remains, provides an intuitive data entry system that prompts users to collect core observations for study by future generations. Since its public release in April 2011, Osteoware has received great interest from its target user group, and has established an international following in the U.S.A., Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Denmark, England, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, and the Republic of Korea. Now, with funding from a PTT Grant and the Smithsonian Web 2.0 Fund, an educational website has been created (http://www.osteoware.si.edu ) with a download portal for the software and related files as well as an online support forum. The website and forum provide users with a place to share ideas and research interests, and create an online community that will act to shape future versions of the software.

DEVELOPMENT OF A NATIONAL CHERT CHARACTERIZATION DATABASE

Archeological chert is a nearly ubiquitous material recovered from prehistoric archeological sites dating from the Paleolithic Era through European contact. Unfortunately, chert artifacts have provided limited insight into prehistoric economies because it can be difficult of attribute the raw material to its source. Now, with funding from a PTT Grant, researchers at Tulane University have used inexpensive x-ray fluorescence to analyze large quantities of chert and create a database of “fingerprints”—linking artifacts to their source.

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