Technology in the Field

During my time here at field school thus far, a big part of the learning experience has been instruction in utilizing technology to aid in fulfilling the project’s goals. Our field equipment includes a Brinno time-lapse camera, a DJ Phantom 3 drone that can take high-resolution photos and videos, a Sokkia CX-105 total station for taking grid coordinates, a ground penetrating radar (GPR), Panasonic ToughPad computers that are portable and easy to transport, Trimble Pro 6H GNSS receivers able to record point locations with sub-centimeter accuracy, and point collection and visualization programs such a Terrasync and Field Genius. These pieces of equipment have proven to be incredibly valuable and even vital to our work in surveying archaeological sites. We can use the GPS receiver and Terrasync to pinpoint an object’s exact location on the globe, or the total station and Field Genius to map out our site grid in terms of location along a North/South and East/West axis. The total station is accurate up to about 3mm, providing a high level of confidence in the location of points along a grid.

While these pieces of equipment allow us to keep a very precise digital record of our operations in the field, some of our work still remains paper-based. Stratum and level forms, catalog number checkout, and other key excavation observations are all recorded on paper and stored in a binder. There are opportunities available to digitize this information too, however. Other field schools, such as Doug Wilson’s Ft. Vancouver public archaeology field school, are experimenting with using iPads to digitally record their observations and store their data.

With this young generation of new archaeologists having been trained on these technologies and programs, a bothersome problem arises when technology doesn’t work. During one of our survey projects in the Willamette National Forest, in which we were documenting lithic flakes, our GPS receiver repeatedly failed to connect to the ToughPad computer via Bluetooth. A task that should have taken approximately two minutes ended up taking about fifteen to twenty while we shut down and rebooted the program to make the two units reconnect. In such instances we have little choice but to battle with the equipment and, where possible, seek alternative modes of operation such as pinpointing the location of an object or test unit using the old-fashioned compass and tape method from a fixed point.

Technology is constantly providing more accurate and more creative ways to collect and express information. We can provide an aerial view of a site location, we can use freely available software such as Google Sketchup to detail a 3-D digital reproduction of what a site might have looked like, and we can use radar to get an idea of what is underground without digging into it. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what we can achieve using technology. Not only are many of these methods detailed, but they also allow us to minimize site destruction and the need for excavation. Technology aids in our accuracy and record-keeping as well as how we approach a site methodologically, and an initial survey using equipment such as the GPR, GPS, and the drone in combination with methods such as pedestrian survey and historical research give us an idea of what is under the surface before we even lay a shovel to it. We have the Student Technology Fund (STF) at the University of Washington as well as the Tribal Historic Preservation Office for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde to thank for much of our equipment.

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