Technology and Software Use in Academic Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management

Session Hosting Format: 
in-person session
Thursday, May 4, 2023 - 8:30am to 10:30am
Kluskap D
  • Alec McLellan, University of New Brunswick
  • Cora Woolsey, ArchaeoSoft Inc.
Contact Email: 
Session Description (300 word max): 

This session will explore the use of innovative technology in archaeology and its implications for archaeological practice. Archaeologists now regularly use technologies such as Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), Side-Scan Sonar, Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), 3D scanning and reconstructions of landscapes and artifacts, and technical software such as on-the-ground data capture applications and GIS. Increasingly, archaeologists are also exploring cutting-edge technologies such as Machine Learning, Augmented Reality, mechanical testing, and handheld X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) to better collect and understand field data. Although technological innovations can increase the quality of archaeological data and breadth of what can be understood about the archaeological record, there are many unanswered questions about how to integrate and curate new kinds of data, whether stakeholders such as communities and the public are served better by the use of these technologies or are further left out of the process, and what kinds of standards and guidelines should be developed to regulate these new technologies. We invite papers that assess the impact of innovative technology and software on the practice of archeology and cultural heritage, including 1) their roles in creating meaningful collaborations between Indigenous communities and archaeologists; 2) concerns and considerations about data collection and storage that cannot be curated in traditional ways; 3) recommendations for how archaeological practice could be improved by widespread use of particular technologies; or 4) case studies in archaeology conducted with innovative technology. In addition, has technology/software helped to create collaborative relationships between archaeologists and stakeholders? Is technology accessible and used to its full extent in the discipline? Has technology/software affected the social and political goals of archaeology? By discussing the intersection between technology, archaeology, and stakeholder/rightsholders, this session will highlight some of the challenges faced by introducing new methods and applications in the industry.

08:30 AM: Mechanical Auger Testing and Screening (MATS) for Cultural Resource Management: Application Case Studies from New Brunswick
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Chelsea Colwell-Pasch - Colbr Consulting Inc.

Traditional systematic sub-surface testing has been common practice in CRM since the industry’s birth in the 1970s, when archaeological survey methods were utilized to rescue material culture from a boom in land development projects across North America. Conventional test pits are hand-dug with shovels; however, innovations out of New Brunswick have developed enhanced testing or Mechanical Auger Testing and Screening (MATS) methods for CRM archaeology. These new methods bolster current practices that have not seen much technological or methodological change over the last four decades. Using NB case studies from the last decade, this paper highlights how MATS is advantageous, including: how it increases the number of areas deemed suitable for sub-surface testing, increases the depth to which systematic testing can occur, increases testing efficacy in wet sites, replaces monitoring (in many cases), reduces the time required to test large-scale projects, increases the percentage of sediment being sampled along with an increased confidence interval, increases artifact recovery rates, and reduces artifact breakage during sampling. MATS for CRM should be considered an ‘Enhanced Testing’ method as it has proven to be more Efficient, more Economical, and as Ethical as traditional shovel testing. MATS – The future of finding the past!

08:50 AM: Toward a strontium isoscape of Newfoundland: a new biogeochemical approach to archaeological geoprovenancing within the province
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Euan Wallace - Memorial University of Newfoundland

Strontium (87Sr/86Sr) isotopes have increasingly come into use by archaeologists to map the movement of humans, animals, and organically derived cultural materials through past landscapes. Because 87Sr/86Sr ratios vary geographically due to geological and environmental-climactic processes, they often provide a reflection of specific areas or regions. Strontium, replete with its isotopic ratio, is absorbed in trace amounts by flora and fauna. As a result, strontium isotope analysis can provide valuable context regarding the movement of an archaeological target specimen over the course of its life. Strontium isotope analysis, however, can only be useful as a geoprovenancing tool once reliable data baselines for 87Sr/86Sr distribution (i.e., “isoscapes”) have been achieved for a given area. This presentation will outline the basis upon which such an approach is being made, beginning with a synopsis of the predictive bedrock-model strontium isoscape for Newfoundland and Labrador developed by the author. It will be followed by a comparison of environmentally sampled 87Sr/86Sr with the predicted isoscape 87Sr/86Sr. Plans to introduce a sample-predictive model using random forest regression machine learning will be raised to produce a higher resolution, more nuanced isoscape.

09:10 AM: Using RGB Photogrammetry to Detect Microtopographic Relief to Aid in the Identification of Human Burials
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Isaac Bender

Advancements in aerial imaging technologies, digital imaging, and their associated softwares has put photogrammetry in a position to capture similar results to other, more expensive, high resolution surface mapping technologies, using less resources. This paper explores the question of if aerial photogrammetry using commercially available RGB digital cameras can produce a high resolution three dimensional model capable of detecting microtopographic relief to aid in the identification of unmarked burials in a mid 19th to mid 20th century Euro-Canadian cemetery. While other point cloud generating surface mapping tools such as LiDAR have a proven track record documenting high resolution topographic mapping and modeling, the fact that it requires expensive equipment and a specialized skill set to operate is a major pitfall. Through the application of comparably simple photogrammetric methodologies, the author was able to create an accurate three dimensional map with approximately 3 cm accuracy in all three axes without additional processing to the point cloud or Digital Surface Model. While this may not be sufficient for identifying unmarked burials by itself, it shows promise for being a cost-effective and accessible solution for producing high resolution topographic mapping.

09:30 AM: Merging UAV and Ground Penetrating Radar Data for Geophysical Investigations
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Steve Garcin - Boreas Heritage
  • Sara Beanlands - Boreas Heritage

Merging surface UAV data with subsurface GPR data offers a more integrated view of archaeological landscapes, providing insight and contextual information through multiple layers of data. Over the past several years, Boreas Heritage has been applying this integrated approach to geophysical investigations across Mi’kma’ki/Nova Scotia and the results of these surveys demonstrate the effectiveness of this multi-dimensional approach. This paper will highlight several case studies, including areas containing unmarked burials, and discuss methods for the integration of these technologies into archaeological field investigations.

09:50 AM: “Basically, a Tricorder”: Investigating User Needs for an Archaeological Mobile Software
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Cora Woolsey - ArchaeoSoft Inc.
  • Alec McLellan - University of New Brunswick
  • Scott Bateman - University of New Brunswick

The power of digital data collection in the field has appealed to many archaeologists for some time, especially with the advent of the iPad, Trimble, and other handheld devices. The potential advantages are clear: eliminating data entry out of the field, standardization, and easier data collection. However, the reality of digital data collection has discouraged widespread and standardized use of handheld devices: potential of catastrophic data loss, battery failure due to temperature and weather, poorly designed devices for outdoor use, and the tribulations of setting up a data collection workflow. Nevertheless, data capture remains an important goal in archaeology.

To identify user needs, we interviewd 85 archaeologists about digitial data collection using a semi-structured interview schedule and analyzed the results using thematic analysis. We found the following emergent themes: 1) archaeologists are tech-savvy; 2) flexibility is imperative but must be balanced with standardization; 3) data storage needs to be reliable, secure, and robust; 4) the main pain point is synthesizing data; and 5) a significant challenge is the device itself. This presentation will detail our preliminary conclusions about user needs based on the emergent themes and how we implemented them in a mobile software for conducting archaeological field work.

10:10 AM: Thematic analysis of Indigenous Perspectives on Archaeology
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Alec McLellan - Trent University

This paper explores Indigenous perspectives on archaeology in Canada and the United States and the role of archaeologists in engaging with Indigenous communities. Indigenous community members were interviewed about their experiences in archaeology to understand their relationships with archaeologists, and their thoughts on the discipline. Thematic analysis, a qualitative method for analytically identifying patterns of meaning across a dataset, was used to identify commonalities, or themes, in the interviews. Based on the results of the analysis, this study identified six themes in the data: 1) archaeology reconnects Indigenous community members to their history, which was damaged and erased by Euro-colonialism, 2) Indigenous community members are concerned and frustrated with the control of archaeological information and archaeological materials, 3) cultural-resource management is outpacing the capacity of Indigenous communities to meaningfully engage with archaeologists, 4) the codification of archaeology through standards and guidelines and technical report writing limits the potential of the discipline, 5) archaeological methods are inconsistent and based on individual, or company-wide, decisions, and 6) archaeological software offers a new opportunity for Indigenous communities and archaeologists to collaborate on projects.