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Archaeological Discoveries

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Remote sensing has created countless new opportunities for archaeologists to discover and analyze archaeological sites. The questions researchers ask will no longer be directly about what they are looking for, but how to overcome the obstacles preventing them from collecting the data using new remote sensing technologies. A lot of these technologies were originally created for government and military applications such as NASA Landsat satellites. It took a while for archaeologists to realize the full potential of these new techniques because of the certain limitations inherent to the old technology. However, when new technology arrived in the form of a radar on a space shuttle, archaeologists could no longer ignore the potential of space-borne imaging. This radar operated at a low wavelength allowing it to penetrate clouds and some kinds of vegetation. It revealed land formations that were not previously apparent to archaeologists using older technologies, allowing them to find excellent excavation sites (Wiseman 1996). The inherent remoteness of this technology allows data to be obtained without disturbing the site and ruining any other data yet to be obtained. This new tool available to archaeologists not only changes the way they look for and analyze archaeological sites, it changes the questions they must ask to effectively uncover the history of our ancestors. Instead of only asking questions about data found using traditional methods, archaeologists now ask questions about how they can obtain new types of data, and how they can obtain this information more effectively and efficiently.

With today’s exponential development of technology, archaeologists are always finding new ways to utilize these new technologies. Øyvind Ødegård, a marine archaeologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and his research team have been exploring shipwrecks in the fjord of the whaling town Smeerenburg in Norway. Most of these wrecks are inaccessibly deep for a human diver so remote sensing must be used if they hope to obtain any information about these shipwrecks. Unmanned underwater vehicles are used to investigate these sites. They are equipped with the latest sensors that allow the archaeologists to record data from the sites with the immense and ever-increasing accuracy. While these sensors are an invaluable tool, artificial intelligence is an emerging technology that is proving to be the most useful new technology available to archaeologists. These unmanned submarines can be controlled by a researcher, but the AI also allows the submarines to operate autonomously, determining whether an anomaly is a site of interest and worth further investigation (HeritageDaily 2018). In a sense, the researchers are no longer asking the immediate questions, they are showing AI how to do that. This allows researchers to focus on tasks that we have not yet figured out how to automate, greatly increasing the rate that archaeological work can be completed. Long range laser scanning is another new technology that has increased the rate of 3D data collection so far past the capabilities of a human it is hard to calculate. Entire archaeological sites can be electronically modeled in just days with extraordinary accuracy (Kacyra 2011). With these incredible technologies, researchers must shift their focus from directly collecting data, to how to use the tools available to collect data as efficiently as possible without damaging the thing they are investigating. Most of the questions they ask will not be about what they are looking for, but how to overcome the obstacles preventing them from collecting it like deadly conditions or amounts of data to large to be collected by humans.  

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