Grab your digital shovel: Connecticut technology is changing archaeology | Crain's Connecticut

Grab your digital shovel: Connecticut technology is changing archaeology

Professor Richard Freund of the University of Hartford displays the "Search for Atlantis" app on his Blackberry. | Photo courtesy of Richard Freund

Archaeologists are digging deeper – into advertising and technology.

Products created by the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology are helping Professor Richard Freund, an archaeologist based at the University of Hartford, do just that.

A template and an app developed by the East Hartford-based center is the tip of the iceberg of technologies being developed by Connecticut companies that are furthering archaeological fieldwork and the promise of more discoveries, educators and technologists say.

A series of apps under development include the “Archaeology Quest” template, with one of them made for Freund’s Search for Atlantis project. The app does not require Wi-Fi and can be used on iPhone and Android platforms. Freund called it “amazing in its simplicity and content.”

The app provides a window into the 10-year-old Atlantis project and gives users a sense of what it’s like to be a member of the research team, said Karen Jarmon, the center’s spokeswoman. The products aim to increase the appeal of archaeology to students that are being increasingly drawn to working outdoors and are less interested in reading books, Freund said.

“This is the best generation of students in the field,” Freund said during a Nov. 14 lecture at Eastern Connecticut State University in which he discussed his exploration of Holocaust sites in Lithuania. “It’s the worst in the classroom but the best in doing fieldwork.”

Freund is a leading advocate of “non-invasive” archaeology in which technology products including global positioning systems, ground-penetrating radar, and drones are used to survey areas and eliminate much of the digging associated with traditional archaeology. Freund and those in Connecticut’s computer sector see technology products, some of them made in Connecticut and some being developed by the contemporaries of today’s archaeology majors, playing an increasingly important role in non-invasive archaeology.

The template and app are the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology’s first foray into archaeology, Jarmon said. It has worked with University of Hartford faculty in other areas, she said.

“We have a strong relationship with the University of Hartford,” Jarmon said.

The app is to be publicly released in February in conjunction with the airing of the “Search for Atlantis” documentary produced by National Geographic and narrated by James Cameron, the famed director of the 1997 movie “Titanic.”

New Haven-based SeeClickFix is an industry leader in GPS with possible future applications to archaeology, said Hugh Seaton, vice president of operations at the Stamford Innovation Center. The center itself attracted developers interested in location intelligence, which is made possible by GPS, at its Smart Cities Summit in September, he said.

Location intelligence is a specialty at Stamford-based Pitney Bowes Inc., said Joseph Francica, the company’s managing director of geospatial solutions. Its mapping technology enables archaeologists to better find objects and respect cultural sensitivities through greater precision, he said.

“The bottom line is that we answer the ‘where?’ question,” Francica said. “Making things for archaeologists is not in our wheelhouse as a company but our technology can definitely be used by them.”

Pitney Bowes, founded in 1920, gained its international reputation through its products serving the mailing industry. It’s now in the midst of a “large transformation” into digital commerce, Francica said.

Managers are going into the field regularly to meet and encourage young developers in forums known as hackathons, one of which was held recently at Yale University. The hackathons foster all types of ideas for all kinds of applications including archaeology, said Dave Andrews, director of insights deployment, software solutions and global e-commerce at Pitney Bowes.

“As a business we have very specific goals,” he said. “But these developers are much less constrained than employees of a public company. We go to these hackathons and see stuff breaking out all over.”

The Stamford Innovation Center worked with Pitney Bowes on a hackathon series that began in September and included several cities. The series was an opportunity for Pitney Bowes to talk about location intelligence and GPS as well as eight APIs, or application programming interfaces, that it makes available to all including startups and big companies.

“The APIs are really the building blocks,” Andrews said.

Encouraging young entrepreneurs is a key building block for Connecticut’s technological future, which will advance archaeology and other academic disciplines, said Bruce Carlson, president and CEO of the Connecticut Technology Council. The council held its 10th annual Innovation Summit Nov. 17 in Hartford.

“We’re known as the Land of Steady Habits,” he said. “We need to make innovation a steady habit.”

Yale Professor William Honeychurch is another advocate of non-invasive archaeology and is exploring the use of remote-sensing technologies in his work. He is not working with any Connecticut-based technology developers at present but that could change given the dynamic tech community in and around Yale, he said.

What is to be prized is how precise technology can locate something, he said. Even today’s best tech products run into gaps in remote locations, said Honeychurch, citing his exploration of the life of Genghis Khan in Mongolia.

“We’ve run a very low-tech project because infrastructure is non-existent,” he said of his work in Mongolia.

Tolland-based Macroscopic Solutions LLC has performed impressive high-resolution photography that will likely be used in future University of Connecticut archaeologic work, said Brian Jones, state archaeologist at UConn’s Office of State Archaeology.

“It will be an important asset for many archaeologists in the state and further afield,” he said.

Macroscopic Solutions’ main product, known as the Macropod, can take dozens of photos containing out-of-focus portions and merge them into one of total clarity through a process known as focus-stacking, said Mark Smith, the company’s co-founder. A new product will soon be available that scans soil samples, helping archaeologists better locate things, he said.

CT ECO at UConn is making high-resolution, light detection and ranging topographic mapping available to researchers, said Jones, calling it “critical to the work I do.”

Data gained from the mapping is used by many Connecticut-based archaeologists for assessing archaeological site sensitivity prior to walkover surveys and excavation. Light detection and ranging imagery has the ability to help detect old foundation ruins, stonewall field systems, charcoal production mounds, and mill sites even if covered by trees, he said.

Drones are showing “great potential” for high-resolution 3-D mapping although that area remains highly specialized with few experts, Jones said. Connecticut companies like Hartford-based Travelers Cos. are using drones to photograph remote damaged areas for insurance purposes, work not far removed from what archaeologists do. These drones are not produced in Connecticut, though.

November 18, 2016 - 6:12pm