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article imageArchaeology unearthing the past using modern technology

By Karen Graham     Nov 26, 2017 in Science
From radiocarbon dating in the 1940s to the virtual reality technology that turns dusty ruins into a living, breathing virtual community from thousands of years ago, archaeologists have been quick to adopt new, innovative technologies to tell our story.
Archaeology is a field of study that draws on many scientific disciplines, from the natural sciences, such as geology and botany to modern technologies like global positioning systems, magnetometry and statistical analysis and data recording. Today's archaeologist is a lot different than the swashbuckling, whip-snapping Indiana Jones, indelibly imprinted in our minds.
"Archaeology has always been very interdisciplinary," says Heather Richards-Rissetto, an archaeologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln told NBC's MACH. "But I think now there's a lot more collaboration between science and engineering than before, and archaeologists are a part of that, helping to develop the technologies to study the past."
The archaeology team at the step pyramid near Edfu  Egypt.
The archaeology team at the step pyramid near Edfu, Egypt.
redit: Courtesy Tell Edfu Project at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute.
Telling humanity's story using early technology
Archaeologists still use picks, shovels, and screens to sift through soil and rubble to find tiny artifacts, and a light touch with a brush is still needed on delicate bones and other finds. These are the tools that have been the backbone of archaeology. But with the advent of airplanes, the field had a new technology to work with.
In the 1920s, during the early age of flight, Royal Air Force pilots crossing the Middle East noticed something bizarre across the barren landscape of Syria, eastern Jordan and Saudi Arabia’s desert. They saw thousands of giant structures covering the land for miles.
Aerial photo of a   pendant burial   in the Jebel Qurma range. The chain consisting of about twenty ...
Aerial photo of a " pendant burial " in the Jebel Qurma range. The chain consisting of about twenty small, individual cairns leads to the left of the large cairn at the head.
Jebel Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project
The intricately carved structures looked like stone wheels, only visible from the sky. Some looked like pendants while others resembled rings or gates. Flight Lt. Percy Maitland documented the mysterious structures in 1927 for the archaeological journal Antiquity; however, the structures remained largely ignored until the 1970s, when Dr. David Kennedy, a retired archaeologist at the University of Western Australia spotted them while studying an aerial photograph from Jordan.
“They really dominate the landscape, suggesting a lot of effort was put into constructing these over a huge area,” Dr. Kennedy said in 2011 of “The Works of the Old Men,” of which the structures are called.
Modern tools to solve a mystery
Fast-forward to 2017 and Dr. Kennedy is using modern technology — Google Earth. Using this technology, Dr. Kennedy has uncovered over 400 previously undocumented structures or gates.
Google Earth view of a cluster of complex wheels approximately 9.5km southwest of Azraq Castle  Jord...
Google Earth view of a cluster of complex wheels approximately 9.5km southwest of Azraq Castle, Jordan.
Google Earth
Most of the desert stone formations have been dated through scientific methods to be between three and five thousand years old, and it is believed they were used for hunting wild animals and consist of long dry-stone walls converging on a neck which opens into a confined space which was used as the killing floor.
Using innovative technologies for high-tech archaeological discoveries
Today, in Jamaica, New Hampshire and other sites around the world, archaeologists are relying on drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras and mapping instruments, satellite imagery, 3D and geochemical analysis and even remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) to tell our story.
UWI  Mona  students receive training from Dr Hayley Mickleburgh (right) from Leiden University durin...
UWI, Mona, students receive training from Dr Hayley Mickleburgh (right) from Leiden University during the excavation of a human burial at White Marl Taino site in Spanish Town.
UWI MONA
In Jamaica, archaeology is particularly significant, not only for unearthing the island's past history but also in giving a voice to the silenced peoples, such as the indigenous Taino and displaced and enslaved African groups. The Department of History and Archaeology at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, is currently involved in two major research projects.
The project includes the White Marl Taino settlement and additional sites from former sugar plantations on the campus of UWI Mona. Students and researchers are using X-ray guns that identify an artifact's chemical composition, as well as ground-penetrating radar that detects buried sites and ancient DNA from humans.
Photograph of workers in a sugar cane field. Loads of sugar cane are being piled up on wooden carts ...
Photograph of workers in a sugar cane field. Loads of sugar cane are being piled up on wooden carts strapped to mules. Uncut fields of cane can be seen in the background. Sugar cane is one of the chief economic crops of Jamaica.; This belongs to a series of Church of Scotland Foreign Missions Committee lantern slides relating to Jamaica.
Unknown author/ Circa 1875/1940
Radiocarbon dating shows the remains found in burial sites ranged from AD 1220 and AD 1654, which overlap with the Spanish occupation of Jamaica — when Amerindians were forced into slave labor.
Applying computer science technologies, such as site mapping, and geographic information systems software, or GIS, the researchers have been able to summarize and visually display geographic and locational information, such as the distribution of sites on the landscape or the distribution of cultural features within an individual site.
And in 2016, a group of maritime archaeologists studying sea level rises in the Black Sea during the last Ice Age uncovered over 40 shipwrecks, declaring their find as a “complete bonus.” The Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project had been mapping the sea floor as part of a study to find out how far seas rose at the end of the last Ice Age, 20,000 years ago.
The  Stril Explorer is an off-shore vessel equipped with some of the most advanced underwater survey...
The Stril Explorer is an off-shore vessel equipped with some of the most advanced underwater survey systems in the world.
University of Southampton’s Centre for Maritime Archaeology
Using the Stril Explorer, a vessel outfitted with the most advanced underwater surveillance equipment in the world, an international team led by the University of Southampton's Centre for Maritime Archaeology, used two Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) to survey the seabed along the Bulgarian coast.
One of the ROVs was equipped for high-resolution, 3D photography while the other ROV, developed by survey companies MMT and Reach Subsea, and named Surveyor Interceptor, can fly through the depths at four times the speed of conventional ROVs, plus, it carries an entire suite of geophysical instrumentation, as well as lights, high-definition cameras, and a laser scanner.
The ROV  Surveyor Interceptor   flies  at four times the speed of conventional ROVs and carries an e...
The ROV, Surveyor Interceptor, 'flies' at four times the speed of conventional ROVs and carries an entire suite of geophysical instrumentation, as well as lights, high definition cameras and a laser scanner.
University of Southampton’s Centre for Maritime Archaeology
"Using the latest 3D recording technique for underwater structures, we've been able to capture some astonishing images without disturbing the seabed," Professor Jon Adams, the principal investigator on the project, said. What is really fascinating about this discovery is that some of the ships have been known about from historical sources, but never before seen.
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