Photo credit: Artem Kniaz
When you think of technology as an abstract concept, it’s common to associate the term with extraterrestrial spaceships or sentient machines. Technology, however, actually involves the progression of humanity through the development of certain skills, products, et cetera. We tend to restrict our perception of technology to utopian societies or Orwellian dystopias because that is the path that we assume that human development will take us. Sometimes, however, technology can be used to look into the past, which can reveal much more about the human race than we previously predicted.
Archaeological sites, buried under sediment and time, are one of the pieces of history that researchers are looking into. Through her platform GlobalXplorer, Sarah Parcak has revolutionized the way that we look at studying the past. GlobalXplorer accumulates millions of satellite images online so that viewers can peruse the images and identify archaeological sites that may have previously gone unnoticed. According to National Geographic, the project has contributed to the identification of key archaeological structures in Peru and will soon be moved to India, where its past successes are sure to provide key insights. A core concept of Parcak’s model is that it involves volunteers to a great extent. Rather than limiting the ability to make contributions to researchers, GlobalXplorer has provided a platform for people across the globe to piece together the scattered remains of human history.
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.
“Solving India’s ancient mysteries—with the help of citizen scientists” - National Geographic
“Unreal Archaeology - How The Ancient World Is Being Recreated In Virtual Reality” - David S. Anderson
“What can we learn from computational archaeology?” - HowStuffWorks