Uncovering the secrets of the past with the technology of the future

By Sashrika Pandey

Photo credit: Artem Kniaz 

David Hixson, an archaeologist from Hood College, has also approached the discipline with a fascinating perspective. By using the Unreal Engine, a software that Epic Games initially intended for game developers that wanted to visualize 3D environments, Hixson has been able to simulate the Mayan city of Chunchucmil. Forbes states that Hixson was able to obtain a substantial amount of data by using drones and even smartphone cameras to collect pictures of the archaeological site. Bringing the past back to life in an immersive digital environment could pave the way for future historical research and educational opportunities for a new online audience. By combining common technology with academia, Hixson has contributed to bridging the gap between the humanities and STEM fields.

The use of innovative technologies in unearthing buried pieces of human history is an emerging concept but has already found its way into educational programs. In the field of computational archaeology, for instance, researchers utilize technology that implements algorithmic thinking to identify trends in pieces of archaeological data and fill in gaps of information. HowStuffWorks explains that this process can be used for modeling past sites and maintaining records of the research that archaeologists may have. By contributing and preserving to a collective stock of knowledge, the field has provided new career paths through an interdisciplinary curriculum.

We often divide STEM topics and the humanities into two separate categories and assume that they aren’t miscible. Assigning labels to each category is not only inaccurate but also inhibits cooperation between the two subject areas. Computational archaeology and the aforementioned projects illustrate the magnitude of an impact that blending two disciplines can have and hints at a bright future where interdisciplinary projects will become more common. So the next time you hear “technology,” it may be worthwhile to take a second and process the collective set of knowledge that humanity has contributed to, regardless of discipline. Technology may be categorized as a STEM topic but it is through the humanities that we have kept it and its past alive.

Sources:
“Solving India’s ancient mysteries—with the help of citizen scientists” - National Geographic
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/2019/07/solving-india-ancient-mysteries-citizen-archaeologists/

“Unreal Archaeology - How The Ancient World Is Being Recreated In Virtual Reality” - David S. Anderson
https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidanderson/2019/04/30/unreal-archaeology-how-the-ancient-world-is-being-recreated-in-virtual-reality/#7c2996b21c69

“What can we learn from computational archaeology?” - HowStuffWorks
https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/earth/archaeology/computational-archaeology.htm