Research is one way to foster and develop technological innovations and applications that enhance the preservation of archaeological sites, landscapes, materials. NCPTT conducts its own research; provides assistance to independent external research projects; and actively seeks to build new partnerships to leverage research dollars and knowledge. Below are a few examples of recent and ongoing research endeavors.

A New Approach to Geophysics Pedagogy

The “Prospection in Depth” course, currently in its second iteration, offers a new approach to archaeological pedagogy. The National Center training course followed a well-worn path in professional development and student training by incorporating multiple geophysical techniques, hands-on equipment use, and data collection at genuine archaeological sites. However, we offered several unique twists:

  1. we partnered with a large-scale research project so that the training was embedded in a rich matrix of theory, method, and purpose;
  2. we provided workshop trainees and their instructors the opportunity to investigate the actual archaeological correlates of their remotely-sensed data; and
  3. we offered an on-line, virtual course component to the general public that greatly enhanced the workshop’s effectiveness and visibility.

This type of learning environment is seldom, if ever, offered in professional development contexts outside of formal university field schools, despite the apparent benefits that both partners would enjoy and the multitude of contract or academic field projects underway around the country at any given moment.

Participants in 'Prospection in Depth 2006'

Participants in ‘Prospection in Depth 2006’

Participants discover a 19th-century brick floor to be the cause of a strong radar anomaly. Its discovery prompted a student-teacher dialogue about why the large surface, of which a small part as exposed, failed to register geophysically in other areas of the site.
(Photo: NCPTT)

When it comes to geophysics training most courses for professionals stress field methods, which is a viable, activity-centered instructional technique. However, because they prioritize instrument operations over anomaly interpretation, ironically they never move far beyond the teacher-centric model. Students simply do not possess the decades of experiential knowledge necessary to interpret anomalies, and have no basis to make the inferential, intuitive leaps from anomaly to archaeological correlate. In the absence of excavating, students remain wholly reliant on the intellectual capital of their teachers. The activity-based component of most geophysics courses thus applies only to the mechanics of instrumentation and application; students actively learn how to operate the machines, set up grids, and download data. What interpretation is present is necessarily done as part of a hierarchical, teacher-centric process largely bereft of true dialogue.



Instructor Diedre McCarthy discusses GPS readings with a participant. Participants collected GPS data for incorporation into a GIS.
(Photo: NCPTT)

Prospection in Depth, in contrast, places geophysics instruction in the context of an ongoing academic excavation project, and teachers and students jointly excavate select anomalies to better understand exactly what it is that structures them. NCPTT’s approach thus carries the activity model into the interpretive realm in what is best characterized as a constructivist approach to learning. In the latter theory, students actively interact with with information and peers to construct new knowledge for themselves. Participants know their exercises directly inform legitimate, active archaeological questions. This gives participant’s work an importance, an immediacy lacking in teacher-centric models that build off canned data sets.

Ground penetrating radar

Ground penetrating radar

An instructor tests ground penetrating radar at Prospection in Depth 2006.
(Photo: NCPTT)

In practical terms, the academic project obtained survey coverage of 2400 m2 of the site that they would not otherwise have had, along with the interpretive assistance of five experts, at little to no fiscal or logistical cost. The workshop participants not only gained experience in geophysics, but also experienced the mental stimulation of engaging in the type of research dialogue only generated by a mature research project and a constructivist pedagogy.

Information on the NCPTT model was provided to the professional public in the following forum:

Arntzen, Katherine and David W. Morgan
2007 “Prospection in Depth: The Educational Benefits of Fusing Geophysical Prospection Training with Mature Research Projects.” Paper presented at the 40th Annual Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, Williamsburg, Virginia.