GIS Tech News (#116)19 Sep, 2012 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin
Tech Trends: Researchers apply modern technologies in search for ancient relics.
By Cyrena Respini-Irwin
Archaeology demands patience, perseverance, and often, a strong back. Like their predecessors, modern archaeologists still labor with shovels, trowels, and brushes. In the past decade, however, they have made some notable additions to the toolbox. The khaki-clad figure that once captured aerial photographs from a hot-air balloon now studies detailed imagery collected by satellite-borne sensors. Crates of dusty field notebooks have given way to notebook computers; dog-eared paper maps have been replaced by GIS (geographic information system) maps that provide spatial context to diverse datasets. Digital 3D models give new life to ancient buildings and artifacts, offering revelations that pen-and-ink drawings never could.
These technologies help researchers make new discoveries, collect data with greater speed and accuracy, and effectively share their findings with fellow scientists and the public.
They can also enable research that is completely nondestructive, in contrast to archaeological excavation, said Tom Paradise, professor of geosciences and historic preservation at the University of Arkansas. "Once a site has been excavated, [the effects of the work] cannot be truly undone. The site is exposed and requires conservation, restoration, maintenance, and monitoring. Digital geographic technologies, however, permit us to study, measure, scan, and assess the structures, landscape, and environments in a completely nonintrusive manner."
Paradise and his team use GIS and 3D modeling in their ongoing study of Petra, an ancient Nabataean city in Jordan. "Rather than physically reconstruct a temple or tomb facade, we can digitally reconstruct it for further research and the visitors' enjoyment and education. This astounding architecture then ... may be digitally studied and observed until all other reversible technologies have been exhausted; only then are nonreversible technologies used."
Main photo: Christopher Angel, a doctoral student at the University of Arkansas, uses a handheld Trimble GPS unit to take latitude and longitude measurements in Petra, Jordan. Image courtesy of Tom Paradise.
Inset, right: A LIDAR sensor was used to produce very accurate 3D images of findings at an historic cemetery excavation site in Tucson, Arizona. Image courtesy of Pima County Arizona Cultural Resources.
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Cyrena Respini-Irwin is Cadalyst's senior editor.
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About the Author: Cyrena Respini-Irwin
In her easy-to-follow, friendly style, long-time Cadalyst contributing editor Lynn Allen guides you through a new feature or time-saving trick in every episode of her popular AutoCAD Video Tips. Subscribe to the free Cadalyst Video Picks newsletter, and we'll notify you every time a new video tip is published. All exclusively from Cadalyst!