We are blogging as we dig into the archaeological records archived at Independence National Historical Park (INDE) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. These records were created over the past 50 years as archaeologists researched sites within the park's boundaries. The Independence Park Archives is currently creating a Guide for this vast collection of documents. This blog serves toward that end. It functions as a platform where archaeologists, archivists, and the interested public can share ideas about how to make these materials more widely available and more useful to the user.
Read more about this project blog...

Monday, September 7, 2009

New Methods -- and forthcoming Records!...

Mended bowl (left), 3D digital scan of same vessel (right).
Computer-assisted vessel reconstruction technology is in the works!
INDE ceramic artifacts are the data set for this research and technological development. Once operational, this new technology will have significant implications for archeological artifact mending, collections management, and site interpretation.Records from this research and development project will be archived as part of the INDE Archaeological Records Collection.

Beyond discovering, preserving, and interpreting American history, Independence Park's archaeologists and archaeological sites have helped to shape the discipline of archaeology. Records in the Park's Archives document the creation and testing of various field and lab methods that have gone on to become a standard part of archaeological practice. This includes the ultrasonic cleaning of artifacts, early application of electrolysis to conserve metals, and various geophysical surveying methods including metal detecting and proton magnetometer prospecting.

As the field of archaeology continues to grow and change the archaeology at INDE continues to contribute new methods. All such developments of course generate a trail of documentation that become part of the archived archaeological records collection.

I blogged previously about the cutting-edge, geospatial survey techniques used at the President's House site in 2007. In that development, Erdman Anthony undertook a 3D laser scanning survey that produced a highly detailed and accurate map of the excavation. By shooting 4,000 laser points a second, the laser technology also created enhanced visuals of the discovered ruins that are useful for interpreting the site.

Now a new project is underway at INDE that will have significant implications for archeological artifact mending, collections management, and site interpretation. It involves the development of computer-assisted vessel reconstructions. Once operational, this technology will allow for more efficient laboratory work and will produce a significant time and money savings. Computers (not just people) will be able to match up the decorative markings on, and the shapes of, ceramic fragments so as to 'piece back together' broken vessels. Such vessel reconstruction is a vital first step in the laboratory processing of artifacts. Speeding up this phase means faster advancement to the analysis phase of study (as artifact identification precedes site analysis). Computer-assisted vessel reconstructions will furthermore allow for remote research capabilities as a collection of ceramics will be able to be studied off-site via digital proxies. Moreover, the digital images created during the reconstruction process will be a useful resource for virtual history presentations.

This particular research and development is part of a three-year effort by researchers from Drexel University. The work is supported by a grant from the Information Integration and Informatics division of the National Science Foundation [NSF no. o803670] entitled, “The 3D Colonial Philadelphia Project—Digital Restoration of Thin-Shell Objects for Historical Archaeological Research and Interpretation”. Principle Investigator Dr. Fernand Cohen (computer vision; Electrical and Computer Engineering) and co-PI's Dr. Ko Nishino and Dr. Ali Shokoufandeh (computer vision; Computer Science), Dr. Patrice Jeppson (archaeologist, Visiting Researcher: Media Arts) and Dr. Glen J. Muschio (anthropologist and media art expert; Media Design) are working with NPS Archeologists Jed Levin, Willie Hoffman, and Deborah Miller.

The project is using the ceramic artifact collection recovered from the National Constitution Center site as a data set. Several Drexel University graduate and undergraduate students are assisting with the research by making 3D scans of mended --and then unmended -- ceramic vessels in the Independence Living History Center Archeology Lab while other students at Drexel are writing computational algorithms for developing the new technology.

Drexel Computer Engineering Graduate student Ezgi Taslidere and Undergraduate, STAR Scholar, student David Myers scan pieces of a pedestaled saucer.

Undergraduate, STAR Scholar Program, student Girish Balakrishnan and Dr. Glen Muschio (Program Director, Digital Media Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design Drexel University) examine the 3D camera images.

Dr. Ali Shokoufandeh and graduate student Patrick Smith photograph decorated ceramic fragments in preparation for testing computational procedures for pattern matching.

Not just new methods but new methodologies....
In assisting the Drexel University grant project, Independence Park, through its archeology program is engaging with community partners. This and other civic engagement activities at INDE are some of the developments transforming archaeology's stewardship and interpretation methodologies. For example, the recent President's House site excavation was undertaken in response to local community group concerns and was conducted in partnership with the City of Philadelphia Office of the Mayor. Likewise the James Dexter site excavation was a project which emerged in consultation with descendant church leaders from the Episcopal Church of St. Thomas and the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Mother Bethel). Both these INDE projects have been used as case studies exemplifying the NPS Directive on Civil Engagement and they are considered best examples of Public or Community Archaeology.

This blog project is one small step in developing archaeology's stewardship and interpretation methodologies. It aims to help the INDE Archives make the Archaeological Records Collection more accessible to researchers and the interested public.