Using Technology to Aid Archaeology

Using Technology to Aid Archaeology

Creighton professor digs in with the latest tools, including 3-D imaging

By archaeologists’ own admission, theirs is a destructive science.

“Excavation is complex,” says Erin Averett, Ph.D., a professor of archaeology in Creighton University’s Department of Fine and Performing Arts. “As you dig, you destroy context. And what does an archaeologist need above all else? Context. Therefore, meticulous recording is paramount.”

For years, while archaeologists unearthed all those important finds, they were also chewing up valuable clues around the dig site that could help with deciphering the purpose and placement of those found objects. The advent of digital technology — especially the Apple iPad — has helped to alleviate some of the burden by allowing researchers to more fully document the area surrounding a dig site, visually and digitally upholding that precious archaeological context.

On the last four trips Averett has taken to Athienou-Malloura, the site of a 3,000-year-old religious shrine in Cyprus, iPads have helped document the dig, preserving visual evidence of the site for later analysis. Averett is assistant director of the Athienou Archaeological Project. Technology is also revolutionizing the discipline in other tangible ways. Three-dimensional scanning and imaging are becoming more common on archaeological digs and, with a Creighton University Haddix Grant, Averett, her students and colleagues have been able to use 3-D to sift through 4,000 fragments of small figurines and statues found at the Athienou-Malloura site and piece together those fragments into more complete statues.

Back home, with the expertise of an Omaha-based company, Tethon3D, Averett has been able to use digital scans to create 3-D printer copies of artifacts found at the site, including the head of the mythical hero Herakles. The head is the same size and, printed with a ceramic composite, has the same feel as the original, half a world away in Cyprus.

“Archaeology has always been at the forefront of embracing new technologies,” Averett says. “What’s happening now is another opportunity at democratizing what we do in the field, getting it into more people’s hands and sharing it with a wider audience.”