The future of archaeology

So let’s take a look at some of the new and upcoming technology that’s taking the world of archaeology by storm. The term “future archaeology” in itself is an oxymoron, but the best way to learn about the past is to expand on the techniques for the future.

drone-reuters-lgFrom above

Let’s kickstart this off with drones. Now people seem to have a love-hate relationship with drones. When you think about what the government can do with and watching you every second is pretty intrusive. This is also a very Big Brother or “Orwellian” way of looking at it. But from a science point of view, it’s actually kind of awesome.

Geology, landscaping and all those environmental goodies will thrive from this little flying robot. In this articles sense, archaeology will get some good stuff from it. Already drones are being used to find archaeological complexes and are able to map them out by taking pictures. Smart, I think so. Long gone will be the days when planes will be needed to spot a long lost complex, the future in terms of aerial archaeology and photography in general are here, and it’s actually really exciting.

Already drones are helping archaeologists out, like the recently discovered ancient settlement in Mexico.

Technology is already playing a massive part in archaeology, especially in the dating realm. At the moment there are just so many different techniques – chemical breakdown (radiocarbon, potassium-argon dating), archaeomagnetic, thermoluminescence and more. This is just going to go from strength to strength and I’ll give my wild ideas later on in this piece.

Reading the past

Next up, let’s look at something that is going to revolutionise ancient writing. I mean cuneiform script is hard enough to read and make out by itself, especially looking at it with the human eye. So why not use a digital eye right? I read this interview/article with James Newhard, Director of archaeology at the College of Charleston. They were analysing and transcribing ancient Greek writing on the Linear B tablet. They brought together 3D imaging and light scanning to produce RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging).

Pictures of the tablet are taking from different angles and in the end you have an interactive image which can be zoomed in on and swivelled around to see from different angles to your heart’s content. This is a very useful tool for Linear B scholars, and is also helps with rendering the surface, so you can tell the difference between an intentional stroke and a accidental scratch.

Check out this video about RTI for a more virtual explanation.

RTI example: marble stele from Cultural Heritage Imaging on Vimeo.

Virtual reality is progressing in leaps and bounds with Oculus Rift and other insane technological advances. Virtual reality is also making its way into archaeology. Maurizio Forte of Duke University uses 3D scanners and satellite imagery to create a virtual archaeological site. With this he can see not only above, but below as well, checking out the stratigraphy (sedimentary layers) and other parts of the site. It literally allows him to be inside the site while being miles and miles away.

Although this relies on educated guesses, it’s an amazing step forward in the advancement of using virtual reality for far-off destinations.

Watch this video to see how it works.

I got ideas too

Right, time for my ideas. Now to be honest, I don’t have the technological know how or the elbow grease to make any of the happen, heck I don’t even know if any of these are possible, but nonetheless here are some of my future ideas for the world of archaeology.

First: Augmented reality – this shit IS the shit. It basically converts a tangible object into a digital object. Why not use this for archaeology? I’m thinking along the lines of a property app that I saw that converted the picture of a house in a magazine into this virtual place where you could go through the house, and even take off the layers to look at the house from an aerial perspective. I mean come on, that is just amazing. Now imagine something like this being used for archaeology. There’s an artefact, it gets scanned using the app, and you’re able to uncover the inner layers of bone, ceramics, wood..anything.

Just putting it out there.

Ancient-Greek-Writing-1298872Second: Translating ancient language – This one is going to sound a little over-ambitious, but if they can translate today’s languages in real time with apps like WordLens, then why not ancient languages? Of course, hieroglyphics and cuineform are a little more tricky, but I’m thinking more along the lines of post-Phoenician writings, when there was an alphabet that we sort of relate to.

Third: Dating – dating involves a lot of equipment and lab analysis. Yes there are some awesome portable tools that are being used, but I’m thinking big and I’m thinking quite a number of years in the future. Dating tools that will give you an accurate reading right there as it’s dug out of the ground. An object basically would’ve have to be in-situ to date it at the site.

Fourth: 3D printing – the world of 3D printing is just getting stronger and stronger, so surely someday it’ll leak into the archaeology world. How? To be honest I don’t really know yet, maybe from the reproduction of tools to study them more intricately..I mean if they can 3D print a kidney, then they can pretty much do anything.

Fifth: X-rays – basically this idea is about looking under the ground without having to look at the surface area for any sign of civilisation, or even using an auger, which I think can be little destructive. X-ray photography on drones, BAM. Finding a site from the sky whilst seeing what it yields beneath the surface.

Don’t get me wrong though, archaeology is not going to be taken over by technology or robots, why? because humans are naturally inquisitive. Yes, technology will help us find lost treasures of ancient civilisations, but it won’t take away our question of ‘how’ or ‘who’ were these ancient or prehistoric people/animals.

And don’t worry, there will still be lots of work to do in the assortment of archaeological material, whether it’s digital or not, but technology will no doubt help archaeologists in the future to uncover the past faster and more effectively.

Agree? Disagree? I want to hear your opinions and ideas for the future of archaeology.


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