This past week has brought to my in-box an unprecedented number of stories about how archaeologyÂ has not just moved into the 21st century but also blazed a trail for other disciplines. Using drones, satellites, big data sets, and 3D, archaeologists are finding, recording, and saving antiquities around the world. Here are just three of the weekâ€™s big stories:
Cyber-archaeology, Big Data, and Helium
The neologism cyber-archaeology is, according to UC San Diego anthropology professor Thomas Levy, â€œthe marriage of archaeology with engineering, computer, and natural sciences.â€ Levy and his research team work in the Middle East, which has the dubious distinction of housing over one-third of the in-danger World Heritage sites. At Petra, Jordan â€” where Indiana Jones famously went in search of the Holy Grail in the movies â€” Levy was asked to use helium balloon high-def photography to map the site in 3D.
But while this isnâ€™t exactly new in archaeology, Levy is going a step further and raising issues related to the maintenance of the data, in addition to the site itself. â€œWhere do the data reside?â€ he asks. â€œItâ€™s early days for cyber-archaeology. We donâ€™t yet have a unified way of dealing with metadata like you find in a field like genetics.â€
Collaborating with other researchers at UC Berkeley, UC Merced, and UCLA, Levy is helping combine 3D data from drones and satellites from locations across the Mediterranean and Near East, covering nearly 10 millennia of human cultural existence. His part of the project will help share data on regional climate and demography far and wide, letting other anthropologists better understand how ancient humans interacted with their local environment.
The general public will see the benefit of Levyâ€™s work as well.Â â€œGoogle GOOGL +0.94%Â Cardboard andÂ Oculus Rift and other emerging 3-D technologies make it possible to enter and explore ancient monuments as they were the day they were scanned,â€ he says. And his group plans to put 3D kiosks into UC libraries so that students, researchers, and others can view digital objects the way that weâ€™ve viewed books, films, and microfiche in the past.
3D Printing Historical and Archaeological Museum Exhibits for the Blind
But what about people who canâ€™t see the virtual world of Petra that Levy has created? Â Enter Bernard Means, an archaeologist at Virginia Commonwealth University, whose Virtual Curation Lab is creating museum exhibits for the visually challenged.
Means has been collaborating with the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond to create replicas of artifacts that can be touched. Vice president for programs at the museum,Andrew Talkov, said that he was â€œtrying to figure out how we can use 3-D printing to make the experience better for everybody â€” because who doesnâ€™t want to be able to handle the [artifact] thatâ€™s behind the glass, even if itâ€™s just a reproduction â€” but specifically for the visually impaired.â€ Means scanned and printed for them artifacts including a 1622 iron breastplate, a 1924 cigar store Indian, a wheel from a Conestoga wagon, and George Washingtonâ€™s signature on a letter regarding his command of theÂ Continental Army.
â€œYou can tell people that George Washington signed this document,â€ Means says, â€œbut even if you could hold the real thing, itâ€™s not going to mean anything to you if youâ€™re visually impaired. But by 3D printing, somebody could trace it and feel it. This is actually touching George Washingtonâ€™s signature.â€
The exhibit is already gaining traction. Kimmy Drudge, a local teenager who is visually impaired, was thrilled to â€œseeâ€ Washingtonâ€™s signature and other artifacts. When Means told her she could keep a copy of the 3D prints, she called him the â€œJedi Master of 3D printing.â€ Kimmyâ€™s mother, Dawn Peifer, said they couldnâ€™t wait to visit again and praised the â€œtremendous impact it will make for individuals who are blind/visually impaired to be able to explore replicas or samples.â€
Crowdsourcing Space Archaeology
And finally, archaeologist Sarah Parcak, who won the $1 million TED prize three months ago, has announced her plans for the money, and they include crowdsourcing. Â Her in-development online platform will let anyone scour satellite images and look for evidence of looting â€” something she calls a â€œglobal alarm system.â€
In her announcement at TED, Parcak said thatÂ â€œthe plan is for us to develop a massive online crowdsourced citizen science campaign to allow anyone in the world to use satellite imagery to discover archaeological heritage and protect against looting. If we donâ€™t do something in the next couple of years to engage the world, this will be gone. Weâ€™re losing the battle against the looters.â€
Looting has gotten much worse after the recession of 2009, as people turn to selling antiquities on the black market. There is also politically- and religiously-motivated destruction, as in the case of ISIS at Palmyra. So while the new online experience will let anyone look for sites, Parcak makes it clear that her team â€œwill not make mapping or GPS data available so as to protect sites. The last thing we want is for looters to log on and help find sites.â€Â When evidence of looting is found, the information will be given to archaeological or governmental officials in the area to deal with.
The gamification of satellite archaeology should, she hopes, encourage people around the world to help protect our cultural heritage. And it should help democratize archaeology as well. As she noted in her TED talk, â€œOne hundred years ago archaeology was for the rich; 50 years ago it was for men; now itâ€™s for academics. Who is the next Howard Carter? It might be you.â€
The goal of all three of the profiled archaeologists â€” Levy, Means, and Parcak â€” is not only to share archaeology with the public but to get the public involved in archaeology. Â When we all feel we have a stake in our collective cultural heritage, we stand to gain important information about the past that can inform the present and affect the future. 21st century archaeology is an archaeology by, for, and of the people of the world.
Source :Â www.forbes.com