Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Happy Holidays from Sustainable Archaeology


Happy holidays to all of our blog readers! Another busy and productive year is drawing to  a close, and we would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has expressed interest in and support for Sustainable Archaeology throughout the year. We look forward to sharing more stories and events with you through the blog in 2014. Highlights that we are already looking forward to include the delivery of our 3D printer sometime early in the new year, as well as events hosted at the facility during the 2014 Canadian Archaeological Association conference, to be held in London, Ontario this coming May.

From all of us at Sustainable Archaeology, best wishes for the new year!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Artifact Photography Stations

Our artifact photography stations are taking shape. Purchased from Vistek, we have two stationary work spaces and one flexible kit for large-scale or on-site photography. Each stationary station consists of a Nikon D5200 DSLR camera with 18-50mm lens, a Manfrotto tripod, a Lastolite Cubelite, Lastolite lamps, and Westcott Apollo reflectors with Nikon SB700 speedlights. 

Our floating camera station is outfitted with both an 18-200mm telephoto and 60mm macro lens and a 6' Cubelite for optimal versatility in field and lab, with large artifacts and small. Nikon Camera Capture Pro2 software will be used to take the photographs directly from the tethered laptop at each station. 

In addition to the Cubelites, which serve to diffuse light from every direction, we have several different sized reflectors and diffusers, which can be used to manage glare, reflection, and shadow when photographing and 3D scanning artifacts. Every artifact record in the database will include a photo to aid in identification, and to provide remote users with the means to view an artifact online without traveling to the facility.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sustainable Archaeology at the OAS Symposium

This past weekend staff from both Sustainable Archaeology Western and McMaster attended the annual Ontario Archaeology Society Symposium in Niagara Falls.

View of both the American and Canadian falls from the conference venue

In addition to our workshop at the end of the day, we were in the book room for the day Saturday, and were able to have some great conversations with a number of professional archaeologists, students, and representatives of other organizations such as the Canadian Conservation Institute and the Canadian Museum of Civilization. 

Book room table setup

We received some great feedback on our use of digital tools and inventory management logic  for labeling and cataloguing of artifacts at Sustainable Archaeology, and enjoyed introducing people to the "immersive archaeological experience" using the Oculus Rift - a virtual reality headset that is designed for the gaming industry. The Oculus at  SA is used to immerse users in a reconstruction of the Lawson village site (located next door to SA: Western at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology) created in summer 2012 by the Sustainable Archaeology Animation Unit internship, using the Unreal game engine. 

Trying out the Oculus

We look forward to continuing conversations from the weekend, and continue to welcome feedback on our draft Procedures and Practices document, available on our website. Thanks to the OAS for a great weekend!

Friday, October 18, 2013

"As it Happens": database development using Neo4J

Database development at Sustainable Archaeology "as it happens": the database team works with Neo4J .

Neo4j is used to power metadata queries, such as searches across attributes recorded for each artifact entered into the database.

Screenshot of Neo4J

This visualization of related nodes will be integrated into each element's record in the database, allowing a user to explore connections between different elements. For example, if the element of interest is an artifact, the user is able to explore the connections between that artifact and other related elements, such as the artifact's unit, and site of origin.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

October at Sustainable Archaeology

Work study student Branwen applying labels
October has arrived with a flurry of activity, the shipment of several skids of our green artifact storage boxes, and some beautiful colours out back of the facility in the Medway Valley. This month we welcomed two new faces to the facility: Western work study students Ilsa and Branwen. Together they have been helping us to advance over one of the bigger hurdles we have here at the facility - the application of over 27,000 labels to the shelves of the mobile shelving units. Each individual box in the facility will be stored at a unique shelf address, which will be recorded in the database via the DM code barcoding system. Each label stores the information for two shelf locations, the "front" box, and the "back" box behind it.

Throughout the remainder of the month we will be preparing to host a workshop at the Ontario Archaeological Society Symposium in Niagara Falls on Saturday October 26th. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sustainable Archaeology: Western is interested in purchasing a 3D printer to use in association with our 3D scanners and microCT to replicate archaeological artifacts. A request for quotation (RFQ) has been published on the Canadian Public Tenders website, MERX. The deadline for submissions is Friday, October 4th.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Flotation Machine in Action

Featured in a previous post, Sustainable Archaeology's soil flotation machine from R. J. Dausman Technical Services, Inc. was put through its paces today. A team from New Directions Archaeology Ltd. was on site to un-crate and set up the machine, running the first tests out in the Lawson village at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, next door. They will be floating dry sediment samples over the next few days that they have collected from some recent excavations the company has been working on.

The machine requires access to running water for its initial fill, as well as access to a source of electricity for circulating the water in the tank. After its initial fill, the machine recycles water within itself to allow for light-fraction flotation, and heavy-fraction rinsing with an attached spray-hose. The material captured in the screens is then allowed to dry on newspaper before it is packaged, and later analyzed. The fine mesh, as seen in the images below, allows for the capture of tiny floating artifacts, such as tobacco seeds. A courser mesh filters the heavier fraction of sediment, which can include artifacts such as shell, bone and pieces of flaked stone tool.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Collections Repackaging at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology

Over the last week volunteers and work study students at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology have been working to prepare the Museum's collections for transfer to Sustainable Archaeology. The work includes the removal of any cardboard, paper bags, newspaper, and any other non-archival quality materials. When complete, the collections will be held in inert, acid free, archival quality materials, including polyethylene bags, acid-free tissue, and polyethylene foam. The repacking effort is guided by the Sustainable Archaeology Collections Procedures and Practices. The Procedures and Practices document, including standards for collections packaging can be viewed on our webpage. We are currently accepting feedback on this draft document, which be provided directly from the website by clicking the orange "Feedback" button to the left of the page.

Museum volunteers and work study students repackaging collections. Image courtesy of the Museum of Ontario Archaeology.

 The repacking project will continue throughout the summer in the Museum's temporary gallery. Visitors to the Museum are invited to view the students and volunteers while they work, and to ask questions about the process and the collections.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Tweaking and Testing the RFID System

OCR Canada was on-site this week at SA: Western performing "tweaks" to the install of our RFID system. Every box of archaeological material held at the Sustainable Archaeology facilities will be identified by an RFID tag, and RFID tracking technology will be integrated into the SA database. The RFID system will be used at both the SA: Western and McMaster facilities to track the movement of boxes both within and between the two facilities.

The "tweaking" of the system involved testing the range of the RFID antennas at the portals installed at every room entrance and every exit/entrance point in the facility, to ensure that the signal strength of the antenna was strong enough to track the movement of boxes, but not so strong as to incur false reads when a box passes close to, but not through a portal.

Now that the portals have been optimized, we can proceed with testing the integration of the RFID system into the inventory management component of the database.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Ark of the Covenant, or....?

While the large crate and black wrapping material may give off an exciting aura of mystery, we have to  disappoint our fellow archaeologists with the news that the latest arrival at the facility is not the Ark of the Covenant, but in fact a soil flotation machine from R. J. Dausman Technical Services, Inc.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Sustainable Archaeology's Collections Procedures and Practices

Sustainable Archaeology's Collections Procedures and Practices are now available on our newly re-vamped website at sustainablearchaeology.org/procedures-practices. These procedures and practices will ensure that all collections transferred to and held in-trust by Sustainable Archaeology are effectively cared for over the long term.

We are currently seeking feedback on this draft version of the Procedures and Practices, and welcome comments and suggestions. Feedback can be provided via email by clicking on the orange "Feedback" button on the left side of every page of the website. Please make reference to the section of the Procedures and Standards that you are providing comments on in your email.

We thank you in advance for your continued interest in Sustainable Archaeology, and for your contribution to the finalization of our procedures and practices. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Guest blog: Ancient DNA and its applications to Ontario archaeology

Our latest Sustainable Archaeology: McMaster guest post is by research volunteer Chris Kendall, a fourth year Honours Anthropology student at McMaster University.

Ancient DNA and Its Applications to Ontario Archaeology
By: Chris Kendall, Honours Anthropology (IV), McMaster University

My role as a research volunteer at Sustainable Archaeology: McMaster, attempts to marry the molecular biological side of anthropology with its archaeological foundations. Over the course of the past semester, I have been examining the collections, working with staff and volunteers, and preparing a technical bulletin for the application of ancient DNA (aDNA) analysis in Ontario. While I was preparing this bulletin, I kept in mind the materials available in the collections, as well as some information researchers may need when beginning a project on aDNA analysis of Ontario archaeological finds. The technical bulletin outlines methodological frameworks on how to select ideal samples for aDNA analysis within the curated samples housed at the Sustainable Archaeology. From a genetics standpoint, many of the samples hold great potential for study. An abundance of faunal remains, combined with agricultural and botanical remains, hair, and sediment may be analyzed for aDNA material. 

The technical bulletin suggests proper storage techniques for organic samples in order to optimally preserve the genetic material. For example, fibres recovered from a water-logged site should be kept in ultra-pure water and not tap water since the chlorine can destroy any remaining DNA. This document can serve as a reference guide to both external researchers interested in using the collections, but also for the facility’s staff to ensure minimal damage and contamination occur to these specimens. It is hoped that from this technical bulletin more researchers will apply aDNA analysis to the study of the faunal and agricultural remains of Ontario. 

Of particular interest to me, is trying to better understand the evolutionary relationships of Ontario archaeological dog specimens. There are many dog skeletons currently in the collection, however, no phylogenetic relationships have been established for these groups, while other North American dog samples have been widely studied (Barta, 2007; Brown et al., 2012, for example). One study by Bathurst and Barta (2004) examined a dog with tuberculosis found at an Ontario Iroquois site, which is currently stored at Sustainable Archaeology: McMaster. Bathurst and Barta (2004) made inferences about human-canine interactions of these people based upon the genetic and skeletal markers, as well as the burial context of the animal. Further analysis of similar remains could look at domestication and migration patterns, which has rarely been studied in the context of Ontario archaeology sites. 

My time spent at the lab has been extremely beneficial. The collections are vast and exciting, so the ability to work so closely with them was a great opportunity. Working with the lab group has taught me a wide variety of skills I have found to be quite complementary to my academic life as both an undergraduate and hopeful graduate student. For instance, I learned that many other sources of DNA exist apart from tissue and skeletal remains. I also became aware of several rules of thumb for storing specimens I was not aware of before researching for this bulletin, such as storing items in humid conditions can lead to hydrolytic damage of the DNA. I also learned that differing techniques for isolating and extracting DNA can give varying results, as can cross-sectioning versus powdering a tooth or using cancellous instead of spongy bone.

Perhaps the most rewarding experience of all is being in contact with individuals with such a wide variety of research interests and schools of discipline. It is interesting to work with researchers, fellow undergraduates, and graduate students all dedicated to better understanding the past human experience of living in Ontario. In doing this, archaeologists work closely with ceramic experts, who collaborate with historians, museums, bioarchaeologists, and others. This blending of mutual interest creates a dynamic work and research environment that I am extremely grateful to be involved with.


Barta, Jodi Lynn
2007     Addressing Issues of Domestication and Cultural Continuity on the Northwest Coast Using Ancient DNA and Dogs. PhD Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, McMaster University. 

Bathurst, Rhonda R. and Jodi Lynn Barta
2004     Molecular Evidence of Tuberculosis Induced Hypertrophic Osteopathy in a 16th Century Iroquoian Dog. Journal of Archaeological Science, 31: 917-925, doi:10.1016.j.jas.2003.12.006

Brown, Sarah K., Christyann M. Darwent, and Benjamin N. Sacks
2012     Ancient DNA Evidence for Genetic Continuity in Arctic Dogs. Journal of Archaeological Science xxx 1-10, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2012.09.010

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Shelf Labeling

As part of our testing of the inventory management portion of the database, we've begun labeling our shelves here at SA: Western. With a capacity for over 54,000 boxes, and shelves that are 16 feet high, we needed a system that would allow us to quickly and easily identify, locate, retrieve, and re-shelve collections. Our labeling system must integrate with other inventory management aspects of the database, and had to be fool-proof - imagine trying to locate a single missing box that has been shelved in the wrong location out of the thousands around it!

To ensure that boxes are not easily misplaced, we developed a labeling system that incorporates barcode scanning rather than manual data entry. Our shelf labels include both a human readable version of the alphanumeric shelf address (for easy reference out in the shelves), as well as a 2 dimensional data matrix (DM) barcode. In order to remove or re-shelve boxes, the user scans the RFID tag that contains the unique name for that box (it's Box ID), opening the record for that box. The user then either selects to "remove" or disassociate that box from it's shelf, or, scans in the shelf DM code to associate the Box ID and shelf location.

To read more about Sustainable Archaeology's inventory management system, check out the last edition of our newsletter Notes from the SA.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Sustainable Archaeology: McMaster's Telecentric Microscope

Lena Zepf (pictured below) is a Masters student in the Department of Anthropology at McMaster University. Using Sustainable Archaeology: McMaster's telecentric microscope, Lena is examining smoking pipes from sites in Ontario.

Investigating cultural transformation in south-central Ontario: 
an examination of smoking pipes

My MA thesis investigates how smoking pipes change through time, and if certain changes to style can provide insight into cultural transformation in the context of shifting settlement strategies. The purpose of this investigation is two-fold, and consists of a visual and an attribute analysis of a series of sites in the Credit River watershed in Mississauga, and surrounding area. What I am looking for is evidence of style preferences and/or local stylistic changes. Sites of interest include the Wallace and Antrex sites (located at the University of Toronto in Mississauga), as well as the River and Chappell Terrace sites (found at the Peel Art Gallery Museum and Archives).

Sustainable Archaeology at McMaster Innovation Park has provided me with access to materials from some of the southern Ontario site collections as well access to a telecentric microscope, which has allowed me to observe ceramic tempers. Preliminary results, at this time, point towards site specific preferences in style, and in increase in pipe prevalence.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Digital Tools for Archaeological Collections and Inventory Management

Collections and inventory management strategies at Sustainable Archaeology: Western were presented at the 2013 Society for American Archaeology (SAA) annual meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii by Dr. Rhonda Bathurst and Kira Westby. The poster and its abstract can be viewed below. For more information on Sustainable Archaeology's inventory management strategies, check out the April/May edition of our newsletter Notes from the SA.

Poster Abstract: Digital Tools for Archaeological Collections and Inventory Management
What does archaeology have in common with weapons manufacturers, NASA or the automotive industry? All require a means of effectively managing and tracking inventory. There is a lot that archaeologists can borrow from the standards of practice implemented by these industries. Advances in coding and labeling systems such as 2D data matrix (DM) and radio-frequency identification (RFID) can speed up the process of data input and retrieval, alleviate transcription issues related to human error, minimize damage to artifacts, and automate collection tracking. Using DM codes to label and track individual artifacts and RFID tags to manage and track storage containers, this paper demonstrates a field-to-shelf solution for archaeological collections management utilizing some of the digital tools currently employed by major manufacturing industries.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Micro-CT Scanning by the Art Gallery of Ontario

In the summer of 2012, Sustainable Archaeology worked with Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) conservator Lisa Ellis and curator Sasha Suda to micro-CT scan 16th century prayer beads, in order to understand how these complex and intricately carved beads were constructed. Their work is the subject of  recent AGO Art Matters blog, titled "Conservation Notes: A very fine resolution". The project was also featured in the Spring 2013 CODART e-zine. The video below (posted on the AGO's Youtube channel) shows a surface rendered model of one of the prayer beads.  

This animation is a surface rendered model of the prayer bead, created from a 21 gigabyte, three-dimensional volume of micro-CT data, using VGStudio MAX. Animation created by Zoe Morris. Courtesy of Sustainable Archaeology: Western University, 2012. Prayer bead. Workshop of Adam Dirksz. 1500-1550. AGOID 29365. The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Guest Blog #5: Volunteering at Sustainable Archaeology: McMaster

Our fifth guest post was written by Julilla Paul, a third year Honours Anthropology student at McMaster University. She writes about her volunteer work at Sustainable Archaeology: McMaster, focusing on the processing, re-bagging, and analysis of coffin hardware from the St. Thomas Anglican Cemetery (Belleville, Ontario).

Volunteering at Sustainable Archaeology: McMaster 
By: Julilla Paul, Honours Anthropology (III), McMaster University

I discovered that Sustainable Archaeology at McMaster Innovation Park was going to open in this past summer, and the day I found out was the day I sent in an e-mail to ask if they were accepting student volunteers. The first thing that struck me as I entered the facility was its size. The facility is composed of a wet for processing samples and dry lab for high resolution microscopy as well as a massive storage area for archaeological collections. The storage area is a vast space lined with waiting shelves, each poised in anticipation of the arrival of archaeological material from across the province. I had spent part of the summer on an archaeological field school in Italy over the summer and I had even volunteered in a small anthropology lab before, however neither of these experiences prepared me for what awaited me in this new space. This lab was ripe with new opportunities to learn how materials from the field are processed, stored, and analyzed. Both the wet and dry labs sport an open layout, bright lights, and a general air of fresh excitement, an eagerness for what is to come. At least, that is how it is seen through the eyes of a starry-eyed student volunteer. After my inaugural tour of the facility, I was put to work building the standardized archival boxes.

Building boxes at the Sustainable Archaeology lab is a rite of passage and fulfills the practical necessity of furnishing its attached storage space. It acts as an introduction to the rhythms of the lab as well as its people and spaces. My first few weeks were spent building boxes to fill the shelves. However, short diversions from this introductory task were soon interspersed in my sessions. At first, I was introduced to the task of re-bagging artifacts for storage. All of the material coming into the facility must be re-bagged in archival grade, acid free bags and labelled based on a standardized system. My work began with the coffin hardware from the St. Thomas Anglican Cemetery sorting the decorative metal handles, rivets and nails that remained from the burials. 

Julilla working with collections in the McMaster lab

St. Thomas Anglican Cemetery was located in Belleville, Ontario and was used from 1821-1874 (McKillop, 1995). A total of 579 graves were excavated on the site in 1989 and yet it is estimated that this represents only 37% of the total number of graves present in the cemetery (McKillop, 1995). Coffin hardware on the site shows a high degree variability in style and form. While some of it was produced in the area, mass-produced coffin hardware emerged in the 19th century when the cemetery was still in use (McKillop, 1995).  

Coffin hardware from the St. Thomas Anglican Cemetery

Currently, we’re working on a pilot project using XRF to test the variability in the quality of metals used in the manufacture of the coffin hardware. This project captivated my attention because it added to my understanding of historic European burial practices and the process of understanding the archaeology of death. I have delved into the world of mortuary archaeology and what I see is fascinating. I am eager to see how the results of the analysis of coffin hardware compare to the previously conducted studies of the osteology of the individuals from this historic cemetery site. 

Brandi MacDonald using the hand-held XRF

Volunteering at a lab still in its infancy provides a multitude of opportunities for an interested student. I was introduced to a full spectrum of lab activities from building boxes to observing thin sectioning procedures. Other student research assistants and volunteers photograph artifacts, drill samples, and test standard operating procedures. These tasks have application both in research activities and the day to day needs of a lab. At Sustainable Archaeology, I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with other student research assistants and engage in areas of research that relate to my academic interests. In this vibrant atmosphere, I still leave the lab each day with the same fervent excitement that I brought with me on my tour five months ago.

Resources for additional information on the St. Thomas Anglican Cemetery Site:

Grauer, A. (Ed). (1995). Bodies of evidence: Reconstructing history through skeletal analysis. New York: Wiley-Liss Inc.

Herring, D., Saunders, S. R., and Katzenberg, M. A. (1998). Investigating the weaning process in past populations. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 105(4), 425-439.

McKillop, H. (1995). Recognizing Children's Graves in Nineteenth-Century Cemeteries: Excavations in St. Thomas Anglican Churchyard, Belleville, Ontario, Canada. Historical Archaeology, 77-99.

Saunders, S., DeVito, C., Herring, A., Southern, R., and Hoppa, R. (1993). Accuracy tests of tooth formation age estimations for human skeletal remains. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 92(2), 173-188.

Saunders, S., Hoppa, R., and Southern, R. (1993). Diaphyseal growth in a nineteenth century skeletal sample of subadults from St Thomas' Church, Belleville, Ontario. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 3(4), 265-281.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Artifact DM code labels

Our label printers have arrived and we are now able to print off artifact catalogue numbers as tiny 3.5x3.5mm DM (data matrix) codes. The codes are printed using a thermal transfer printer on custom die-cut labels made of archival-quality polypropylene. The labels encoded with the artifact's catalogue number will be affixed to the surface of the artifact itself using Paraloid B-72, an acrylic resin. As with traditional artifact labeling methods, the acrylic resin will be applied both under and over the DM code, to both protect the surface of the artifact, and to affix the code to the artifact.

The system that Sustainable Archaeology will use for assigning and coding artifacts with DM codes has been adapted from work by Spanish archaeologists at the Centre for the Studies of Archaeological and Prehistoric Heritage at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB). Using DM codes, the archaeologists at UAB are able to tag and identify even tiny artifacts without having to write directly on the artifact surface.

Photo source: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110119084757.htm

Dr. Rhonda Bathurst and Kira Westby of Sustainable Archaeology will be presenting a poster at the upcoming SAA conference in Hawaii in April that will introduce the DM coding at Sustainable Archaeology as part of Sustainable Archaeology's broader inventory management system for artifacts, which includes RFID tagging, as well as the DM coding of shelf locations, artifact bags, and the artifacts themselves.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Sustainable Archaeology in the News

Sustainable Archaeology has been receiving both national and international exposure over the past few weeks. Notably, the project was the subject of an article in the Globe and Mail this week, featuring the labs and facility at SA: McMaster in Hamilton. Digital imaging of boxwood prayer beads by curators Alexandra Suda and Lisa Ellis of the Art Gallery of Ontario at SA: Western's digital imaging labs was featured in the Spring 2013 CODART eZine.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Visit to Sustainable Archaeology: McMaster

Last Friday, our team here at Sustainable Archaeology: Western took a road trip to visit Sustainable Archaeology: McMaster in Hamilton, Ontario. We met with Dr. Aubrey Cannon and Meghan Burchell of the McMaster facility to discuss the development of Sustainable Archaeology's database, and the integration of the collections held physically at the two facilities in London and Hamilton into the centralized Informational Platform. 

From left to right: Kira Westby, SA: Western, Dr. Aubrey Cannon and Meghan Burchell, SA: McMaster,
Dr. Rhonda Bathurst and Dr. Neal Ferris, SA: Western. Photo taken at the McMaster SA facility.

As mentioned in previous blog posts, the labs and storage repository of Sustainable Archaeology: McMaster have been integrated into a renovated facility that is part of McMaster Innovation Park. Like Sustainable Archaeology: Western, the McMaster repository space is outfitted with high density mobile shelving units, and will store materials in the same green archival-grade polypropylene boxes as the Western facility. The two facilities will follow the same policies and procedures for storing and managing collections, using archival-grade packaging materials to ensure longevity and research viability of collections. Although held physically in two different facilities, all collections held by Sustainable Archaeology will be incorporated into the single database system and research platform developed by Sustainable Archaeology, allowing broad access to these materials.

Sustainable Archaeology McMaster lab spaces are designed to enable focus on materials analysis, including petrographic, biogeochemical, zooarchaeological and geoarchaeological studies. The facility has a processing and wet lab (seen below), where artifacts, faunal and floral materials, as well as soils and sediments are processed, and where materials preparation and analysis can be performed, as well as a microscopy and analytical lab space that incorporates a number of powerful microscopes, used to facilitate study of micro-artifacts and to produce high resolution digital images. 

Over the next few months we'll be working closely with Sustainable Archaeology: McMaster to incorporate our inventory management system, which will allow us to track and manage collections held collectively by Sustainable Archaeology at the two facilities, and to finalize our policies for collections management. We'll also be working with our database team here at SA: Western and with SA: McMaster to begin testing the collections management portions of the database.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A microCT and Archaeobotanical Analysis of Charcoal

The microCT scanner at Sustainable Archaeology was used to non-destructively study charcoal remains from the Arkona site, a ca. AD 1200 Younge Phase village site in Ontario. The scanned charcoal was analyzed and identified by Ontario archaeobotanist Rudy Fecteau. Using the microCT allowed for the charred remains to be digitally "split" in order to examine internal structures while preserving the original specimen for future analysis.

As noted in the video, the species of the second charcoal sample was not determined, and we invite our blog readers to assist us with the identification. Below are two closeup images giving a closer look at the internal structures of the second sample. If you have an idea of what the species might be, let us know by commenting on the blog, by tweeting the answer to us (@SustArchaeology), or by posting on our Facebook page.

 Special thank you to Rudy Fecteau for providing feedback and analysis on our scans, and for the delicious strawberry loaf!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Guest Blog #4: A Non-Destructive Technology for Palaeopathology: Differential Diagnosis of Cranial Lesions in Archaeological Human Populations

Jennifer Morgan is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Western University.  Jennifer has been working with Sustainable Archaeology's microCT scanner to scan and analyze Maya and Egyptian archaeological cranial samples exhibiting cribra orbitalia and/or porotic hyperostosis in order to assess whether the microCT is a more effective tool than destructive thin section techniques to study the etiology, activity, and healing of the lesions. 

This blog features Jennifer's contribution to the upcoming edition of the Sustainable Archaeology newsletter, Notes from the SA, which will be published on February 7th.

A Non-Destructive Technology for Palaeopathology: Differential Diagnosis of Cranial Lesions in Archaeological Human Populations
Jennifer Morgan, PhD Candidate, Western University 

Palaeopathology is defined as the scientific study of disease processes from archaeological human remains. The pattern of disease that affects a population is the expression of the biological and cultural stressors to which they were exposed. It is influenced by the environment, sex, social status, diet, occupation, and even cultural belief systems. These factors help researchers to interpret and explain the patterns of disease observable on human skeletal remains. Recent microscopic analyses of bone have revealed that porotic lesions of the skull, referred to as cribra orbitalia and porotic hyperostosis, can be caused by more than one health related condition. Originally associated with anaemia, other conditions including vitamin deficiencies and localized infections have also been implicated as possible causes of these lesions. Therefore, it is critical to establish methods that can accurately assess health conditions from skeletal remains. Inaccurate diagnoses can have significant implications for our current understandings of how disease and other health related conditions may have evolved over time, across geographic space, and how they may have affected human populations in the past.

The purpose of my current doctoral research is to examine an innovative non-destructive method for improving the accuracy of disease diagnosis in archaeological skeletal samples.  The principal objective of this study is to determine whether micro-computed tomography (μCT) and advanced methods of digital image analysis can be used in palaeopathology to visualize small scale bone changes which are typical of certain health conditions. The goals of this research are two-fold.  First, I wish to assess the capability of μCT and digital image analysis as sufficient alternatives to destructive thin section techniques which are traditionally used for microscopic skeletal analysis in bioarchaeological research. Second, I wish to evaluate the ability of µCT for more reliable differentiation between the various pathological conditions that contribute to the presence skeletal lesions in archaeological human remains.

Why is this significant?  In order to establish a reliable diagnosis it is often necessary to analyze the microscopic structures of diseased bone. Microscopy is essential in palaeopathology since although several disease processes can lead to similar bone surface changes, microscopic analyses demonstrate that there are patterns of microscopic changes which are unique to specific diseases. The classic way to examine bone microscopically is through the use of histological thin sections of bone, which require significant preparation and destruction of the sample. The method proposed for my doctoral research, using μCT, requires little to no sample preparation and is a method which has the potential for high resolution bone analysis, while eliminating the need for destructive sampling of valuable archaeological remains. 

For this research project, skeletal samples have been drawn from an Egyptian and several Maya collections housed at Western University in London, Ontario.  A large number of individuals with observable porotic cranial lesions have been μCT scanned in the Ancient Images Laboratory.  The resulting images are currently being qualitatively and quantitatively analyzed using the digital image analysis software VGStudio Max 2.2. These analyses of bone structural changes will determine whether the characteristic microscopic patterns indicative of anaemia, vitamin deficiencies, and infectious processes described in the literature can be differentiated using μCT. It is anticipated that the results of this research project will make a significant contribution to palaeopathology by providing non-destructive, high resolution digital techniques for the diagnosis of disease from archaeological skeletal samples as well as vastly improving our epidemiological understandings of health and disease in archaeological populations.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Museum Kiosks

Today the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, next door, installed a set of touch-screen kiosks in their gallery. The kiosks will display the interactive reconstruction of the Lawson Village that the Loyalist College interns of the Sustainable Archaeology Animation Unit developed while working at Sustainable Archaeology in the summer of 2012.