The dictionary defines it as “the study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artifacts and other physical remains.” That’s archaeology.
The picture most of us have in our mind of an archaeologist is of someone digging up and identifying ancient bones and artifacts to piece together what life was like a long time ago. The occupation has become very popular with the release of the Jurassic Park movies. The actual job is a entails a lot of research before any actual digging takes place. The proper location must be found where bones and/or artifacts may be found, then the actual dig takes place. That’s when the analysis begins to determine the age of the find and the people who lived there so long ago.
An October 1, 2021 article published on Physics.org (phys.org) had the interesting title “Space archaeology study: Life and culture in the International Space Station.” The article by Flinders University in South Australia explains that space archaeologists (yes, there is such segment of archeology) have been looking at data from the last twenty years of habitation at the International Space Station (ISS) looking into how the astronauts interacted with their fellow astronauts and the tools they work with while orbiting above the Earth.
The researchers couldn’t actually stay onboard the ISS to study the culture and interactions of the various crews so they used the next best things: the millions of digital photos taken by the crew members themselves. Quoting Associate Professor Alice Gorman, an internationally known space archaeologist from Flinders University, “The images include metadata recording the time and date, which become an excavation, linking the contents of images to moments in time. given that the crew takes approximately 400 pictures per day, images depicting the station interior now number in the millions. We’ll eventually use crowdsourcing to help tag and catalogue that huge cache of photos, with the project likely to take several years.”
Instead of excavating areas where standard archaeologists unearth the items discarded or saved by the people who lived there, these researchers chose to focus of what the astronauts brought back with them when they departed the ISS and returned to their earthly home. Gorman says “The return of items from the ISS can be interpreted archaeologically as a form of discard process. Preliminary analysis of our interview transcripts indicates the complexity of the process whereby items enter the inventory and are subsequently dispersed.” She says that items that have been discarded and sent to the garbage landfill can actually be excavated to retrieve and analyze them.
The purpose of this unique type of archaeologically is to understand the interaction of these crews as a “microsociety” to see better how daily life functions in the weightless void of space. As they continue the research the hope is to have the future astronauts who will endure much longer travels to distant planets be able to better cope with the time in which they will be confined to having such close contact with their crew mates.
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