Monday, February 23, 2015

Sustainable Archaeology Newsletter, Spring 2015

Our spring newsletter is now available. Check out what has been happening at Sustainable Archaeology Western and McMaster over the winter months.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Guest Blog: 2015 SA Work Study Projects

This winter, SA: Western has had two Work Study students from the Department of Anthropology, Kayley Sherret and Connor Schmid, assisting with the day-to-day activities at our facility. We have certainly kept them busy with everything from collections management to researching file formats for the associated records in our Informational Platform. We've asked them to test the database, move boxes, repackage collections, label shelves and scan documents. But in the midst of that hard work, we've also asked them to familiarize themselves with some of SA's equipment and help us develop some of our user manuals. This has given them the opportunity to interact with SA Research Associates and Technicians, to apply some of the knowledge learned from their coursework, to do a little extra research outside of their curriculum and - hopefully! - to have had a little fun. Please enjoy the following blog post, written by Connor Schmid.

Connor Schmid, one of our work study students

Imaging and Re-associating Artifact Context

In the summer of 2014, as part of a re-boxing and collections management project, the Museum of Ontario Archaeology found a discreet box in their storage room.    It contained two rings and a metal pendent with an unreliable context card.  Dr. Chris Ellis of Western University identified these as Jesuit rings and a devotional medallion and affirmed their rarity.  These are known to have been distributed by Jesuit Priests to the local people at Missions in the 17th century and were widely traded (Cleland, 1972; Smith & Mattila, 1989). Sustainable Archaeology: Western work-study students have used several techniques to examine the rings and medallion, including: photography, 3D scanning, and microCT scanning.

Artifact Photography

These Jesuit artifacts have given us an opportunity to test our setup and skills with the SA digital photography equipment. First, we carefully mounted the artifacts using foam blocks to get a good view for our camera. We then adjusted the lighting to capture the small details on the artifacts. In this case, we used two light sources – one fixed to provide a constant light source, and the other adjusted to play with the shadows cast by the artifact. Once our lights were set up close to where we wanted them, we used image capture software (Nikon Camera Control Pro2) to manually adjust the camera settings, ensuring the proper focus and exposure for the photo. We then took a few shots of the artifacts, adjusting lighting, zoom, or camera position as needed until we got a photograph we considered excellent quality. Eventually artifact photos such as these will inform how photography is used in the SA Informational Platform.

Jesuit "L-Heart" Rings. Upper ring is of an unknown context. Lower ring is from the Omand Site on Christian Island, ON

Devotional Medallion, stamped on each side, from an unknown context

 3D Scanning

While photography is useful for portraying a simple 2D image of an artifact, rarely do such images capture the entire artifact as it is in real life. For example, getting a complete picture of our two-sided Jesuit medallion is difficult, as we must take two pictures of either side, rather than an image that can display the entire three dimensional artifact. 3D scanning allows us to take a complete scan of an artifact, making a digital representation that can be rotated and examined as a real artifact would. The 3D scanners from 3D3 at SA use white light to capture a series of images that can then be combined into a three dimensional digital model. With help from our 3D Imaging Specialist Nelson Multari, we were able to take several scans, and then combine them in Flexscan3D, a model editing program, to make a 3D image that is an accurate representation of the physical artifact. Any “holes” in the model where the scanner couldn’t see – say, a shadowy area – were filled in using editing software, giving us the final digital version of the 3D scan. While the design on the rings can be viewed in greater resolution in our 2D photograph, the 3D scan allows us to orient the artifact and examine portions not captured by photography, such as the inside of the band.

MicroCT Scanning

3D scanning gets us a digital representation of the exterior of the artifact, but what if we wanted to examine the interior structure? You could use an invasive method, something like thin sectioning that destroys a portion of the artifact – or, you could use SA’s microCT machine and scan the interior of the artifact using X-rays. MicroCT uses X-rays to scan cross sections of an object that can be used to create a 3D virtual model of the original (Nikon). The ‘micro’ in microCT refers to the size of the cross section taken – in this case, each cross section can be in the micrometre range. This type of scanning allows us to create a 3D representation of an artifact that includes the interior structure, making it easier to discern such attributes as method of production, artifact composition, or even viewing fine details that have been obscured by corrosion or decay. MicroCT scanning showed that one of the rings was made of a very dense material, and that the metal hoop link at the top of the medallion is composed of a different metal than the rest of the artifact.

MicroCT Scan of the Omand Site ring
Detail of etched "L-Heart" Omand Site Ring
MicroCT scan of devotional medallion

We have had a tough time associating these artifacts with any particular site because our rings and medallion were found in a box that had included little context on the finds. Some detective work revealed that at least one of our rings is from the Omand Site on Christian Island (Smith & Mattila, 1989), associated with the Jesuit St. Marie II mission from the 17th century. Unfortunately, the second ring and medallion have no associated context. The “L-Heartmotif was common on devotional rings from the Jesuit order, with L possibly representing St. Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, and the heart representing affection directed to that saint (Fitzgerald, Knight & Lennox, 1994).  Articles on the methods of production of Jesuit rings gave us an idea of what features a completed ring should have – such rings were cast as one piece, with the design being engraved after casting (Cleland, 1972). Our microCT scan revealed that the rings had features that were consistent with other descriptions of how authentic rings appear. The microCT scan has also shown that our rings and medallions are composed of different metals, based on the density of each artifact. Combined with photography and 3D scanning, we can create a better representation of these artifacts for others to view than we could using only description or photography.


Cleland, C. E. (1972). From Sacred to Profane: Style Drift in the Decoration of Jesuit Finger Rings. American Antiquity, 37(2). 202-210.

Fitzgerald, F.R., Knight, D.H., Lennox, P.A. (1994). Catholic Devotional Items from 17th Century Ontario Archaeological Sites. Arch Notes, 94(5). 9-19.

Smith, D.G., Mattila, H.U. (1989). French Jesuit “L-Heart” Finger Rings from Christian Island. The Palisade Post, 10(3). 5-6.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

It's an exciting New Year at Sustainable Archaeology!

We are excited to start a new year here at Sustainable Archaeology: Western. This month we welcome a new staff member to our ranks, Dr. Jennifer Morgan, who is our new part-time Ancient Images Laboratory Technician. Dr. Morgan was the first PhD candidate to complete her program utilizing the resources at the facility (mCT scanner), and we are excited to have her and her expertise back at SA.

Last year wrapped with the completion of the installation of our videoconferencing station. The station is equipped with two 65" monitors, outfitted with Vidyo conferencing software that can accommodate up to 10 video-conference attendees at one time. Overflow can be handled by the Polycom Soundstation VOiP conference phone. The SA Advisory Committee's first meeting was hosted in the Collaboration Room in early December, and included one participant who joined the meeting via video conference from Quebec. The Vidyo conferencing system allows us to share presentations, graphics (3D as well as 2D images), even video with our colleagues anywhere around the word, and will aid the collaboration process significantly at this graphics-intensive research facility.

There are many other exciting developments in the works that we look forward to sharing. Stay tuned to this space - 2015 will be a big one for us! Happy New Year!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Significant Events

It's an anniversary of sorts for us. Four years ago today we took this photo on the site of what was going to be Sustainable Archaeology: Western. London hydro were on site to re-route those hydro lines you see in the photo, formally kicking off the long-awaited and anticipated construction phase of the project. It took ten months for the building to go up, but we were ensconced at our new desks by the following September.

October 2014 was a time of significant change for us, as we welcomed two new staff members, Alex and Katie, and said goodbye to one of our long-term staff members, Kira. We also welcomed one new work study student, Kayley, to our ranks. Our Videoconferencing Station is now set up and we are able to collaborate with colleagues, share images and presentations anywhere in the world.Next month we look forward to using the station as part of the first meeting of the SA Advisory Board.

Last Friday marked another significant date on the SA calendar. October 31 marked the formal end of the 5 year CFI/ORF grant for Sustainable Archaeology. With only a few equipment purchases left, which are already in the works, the project is now supported by operating funds - we have officially been pushed out of the nest!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Notes from the SA: Fall 2014

Our Fall 2014 newsletter features updates on activities at both the Western and McMaster facilities, and an article by recent graduate Colleen Haukaas on her 3D scanning work at SA: Western. Scroll through the embedded PDF below, or download a copy from the Publications page of our website.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Guest Blog by Professor Andrew Nelson: On the Road with SA in the UK (Part 3, final installment)

Interested in how research projects and collaborations are established and executed? This is the final blog post in our series of three that has followed SA Research Associate Professor Andrew Nelson on a recent trip to the UK. Read Part 1 of the series here, and Part 2 here.

July 11th – Andrew took the opportunity to visit the Nikon Metrology Centre-of-Excellence in Tring. Tring is about 40 minutes by train north of London. This is where the microCT scanners - including our own! - are assembled, and where Nikon offers inspection services using their line of scanners. Andrew Ramsey, a CT Specialist at Nikon, showed Andrew N. around, and patiently tolerated a barrage of questions about the inner workings of the CT Pro reconstruction software.  Andrew R. was part of the team that scanned the amazing 'mechanism' from the Antikythera shipwreck - and has lots of experience scanning interesting things!  

CT scanners being assembled at Nikon Metrology in Tring, England.
 July 12th – Andrew visited the incredible block-buster exhibit at the British Museum entitled “Ancient lives:new discoveries”, featuring 8 Egyptian mummies [Andrew being a mummy expert himself - Ed.].  The exhibit features CT scans and detailed examinations of each individual, highlighting the story of their lives and how they were treated in death. Many of the exhibits included the ability for the visitor to interact with the scans – either rotating the views, cutting through the mummy or otherwise highlighting specific features. In many ways the exhibit was quite simple, but the visitors were enthralled.  This might be an interesting way to exhibit the scans of the prayer beads at the AGO!

July 14th – Scan day.  Andrew linked up with Annie Kemkaran-Smith, to scan two objects from the Wernher Collection at Ranger’s House Museum in Greenwich. Annie is the Curator (Art Collections) of the National Collections Group with English Heritage, London. As such, she is the collections curator for Down House (Darwin’s home), Eltham Palace and Ranger’s House.

The objects were a small prayer bead and a miniature boxwood coffin – a memento mori (see an example of a very similar coffin at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, here).  The scans are pretty amazing – particularly the coffin!  It will take a lot of work with the analytical software to segment it into separate elements. We will demonstrate this work in a future blog post.

That was it for the bead and CT related work on this trip.  It was a pretty eventful few days!  We’ve got some more scanning planned at home in London, Ontario and the triptych with the Detroit Institute of the Arts to do – so lots more to come. Watch this space!

Thanks, Andrew, for sharing your adventures with us. It's been interesting to see where our microCT scanner was built, and the sorts of work researchers in the UK are doing with similar equipment. We are certain the trip has inspired research for both you and future students in the Anthropology Department at Western. We look forward to seeing your research and collaborations blossom here at SA: Western, and we're thrilled to be a part of this story!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Guest Blog by Professor Andrew Nelson: On the Road with SA in the UK (Part 2)

Interested in how research projects and collaborations are established and executed? This blog post continues the adventures of  SA Research Associate Professor Andrew Nelson, as he gives us a  behind-the-scenes look at his new collaborative project with the Art Gallery of Ontario. Read Part 1 of the series here.

July 8th – Lisa Ellis, Sasha Suda (both of the AGO) and myself (Western University) visit the Natural History Museum in London, England to see their microCT scanning facility.  They have a Nikon XT225 just like the one at SA: Western – perfect for this project, as the unit and the software here will be the same that I use at home, ensuring comparability of the scans.  Lisa and Andrew, along with Andrew’s long time radiography colleague, Jerry Conlogue, met up at the NHM.  

Prof. Jerry Conlogue stands in front of a showcase of some of the projects produced by the IAC lab at the NHM.
There we were met by Dan Sykes, Assistant Micro-CT Lab Manager and Micro-CT Specialist at the Imaging and Analysis Centre (IAC). This is an amazing operation – a lab full of humming computers with folks creating amazing images on their computer screens – everything from bee brains to meteorites to bones. 

The Imaging and Analysis Centre at the Natural History Museum, London.
Andrew returned here later in July to scan two pieces from the Wernher Collection at Ranger’s House museum in Greenwich (see 3rd blog installment).  One piece is a prayer bead, and the other is a small boxwood coffin that is carved in a similar manner as the beads.  That should be fascinating… stay tuned.

July 9th – Lisa and Sasha head back to Canada.  There’s nothing going on that’s relevant to the bead project – but Andrew did visit the Hunterian Museum.  This is an amazing collection of anatomical specimens – both human and animal, as well as the skeleton of Charles Byrne, the Irish Giant.  Fascinating stuff – lots here that could be microCT scanned! (Byrne’s skull has been scanned at the Natural History Museum).

Next time, Andrew visits the Nikon Metrology Centre-of-Excellence in Tring - where our microCT scanner was born - stay tuned to Part 3 of our blog series.