Meet a Member: Todd Ahlman

Here’s the latest in our series of entertaining interviews with a diverse array of your fellow SHA members. Meet a member for the first time or learn something about a colleague that you never knew before. This blog series also offers current members an opportunity to share their thoughts on why SHA membership is important (Camaraderie? Professional service? Exchange of ideas in conference rooms and beyond? You tell us!). If you would like to be an interviewee, please email the Membership Committee Social Media Liaisons Eleanor Breen ( or Kim Pyszka (

An Interview with Dr. Todd Ahlman, the Director of the Center for Archaeological Studies at Texas State University where he manages archaeological research for the university and other public and private clients.

Fieldwork or labwork?

Both. Besides the fact that I get to work outside, the instantaneous discovery that occurs in the field is exciting and refreshing. In the lab, I enjoy getting an in-depth look at the material culture and putting all the pieces together to better understand past human behavior.

 What would be your dream site to work at?

Every site is a dream site because I get to do archaeology. I mean really, I have a dream job.

What are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading the Encyclopedia of Caribbean Archaeology edited by Basil A. Reid and R. Grant Gilmore III and published by the University Press of Florida. It is a great summary of the diversity in the Caribbean.

 What did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was a kid I wanted to be a football player for the Minnesota Vikings, a doctor, or president. I actually figured out at age 15 that I wanted to be an archaeologist. Indiana Jones had no input into my decision; it was just a love of the past and things. My old brother has told me he knew it was fate because I was always intrigued by the ceramic and glass sherds we found while playing as kids. There have been a lot of people along the way who have influenced my path of becoming an historical archaeologist, but being an archaeologist is what I’ve always wanted.

 Why are you a member of SHA?

This is a good question and one I ask myself every year before I join. I am mainly a member for the journal, but I’ve found our journal has become less cutting-edge theoretically and topically in the past 5-7 years. That being said, the content in the journal is still the best for those interested in historical archaeology and that’s why I am still a member.

 At what point in your career did you first join SHA?

I joined SHA sometime in the early or mid-1990s, not long after I started graduate school.

 How many years have you been a member (approximately)?

18-19 years

 Which article from Historical Archaeology has been the most influential to you?

The one article that has been most influential to me isn’t one that I’ve read, but one I published in the journal in 2009. It was a four year odyssey to get it published and if it wasn’t for some prodding by Joe Joseph, it may not have been published. What it taught me was to never give up when it comes to getting something published. As long and frustrating as the process may be, you must stay positive and push forward.

 Which benefit of belonging to SHA do you find the most beneficial?

The journal is the biggest benefit on a long-term basis, but I think the conference is the most beneficial to the society because we get to meet our colleagues face to face.

Building Massachusetts Archaeology Month

Massachusetts Archaeology Month (MAM) is a popular public program in New England.  Recently I have heard of an alarming trend – the suspension, downsizing, or proposed cancellations of similar Archaeology Month celebrations in other states.  I am interested in what aspects of our program have kept it appealing to Massachusetts residents for more than 20 years, and ways that we can engage other states to participate in their own way.

Massachusetts Archaeology Month began in 1992 as Archaeology Week.  Hosted by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, this initial celebration had 47 public archaeology events across the state. Calendars of events as well as posters were mailed to institutions, educators, and individuals throughout New England.  Initially hosted in June, Archaeology Week was moved to October in 1995.  Due to an overwhelming amount of participation in the first few years, we expanded the program in 2004 to be a full month of events, solidifying the pattern of monthly celebrations that we continue today.   This first extended Massachusetts Archaeology Month saw over 100 events.  Subsequent years have maintained this high-level of participation with an average of 90-100 events in 40-50 cities and towns across Massachusetts.

Despite having hosted over a thousand Archaeology Month events, the quality of programs that are offered continues to remain high.  Events are hosted by local partners, not individually coordinated by the Massachusetts SHPO.  Partners who host events include universities, museums (from small, house museums to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts), local historical societies, government agencies (at local, state, and federal levels), CRM firms, libraries, archaeological groups, and more.  Each of these partners submits their event information to be listed in the state-wide calendar of events.  Events appeal to a wide audience, including those from different age groups, educational backgrounds, previous knowledge of archaeology, learning styles, geographical locations, and interests.  These special, targeted events have included walking tours of archaeological landscapes, site visits, lab tours, museum trips, lectures, hands-on learning for children, archaeological fairs, bike tours, canoe tours, demonstrations, discussions, and so much more!

We solicit for events early — often before the ground has even thawed in the spring.  We have found that keeping an updated mailing list of potential event holders and asking them early in the planning stages helps people dream up, plan, and develop high quality, well thought events in time for October.  That said, we are definitely on the early side, and many people still prefer to be listed in our website only, having missed the deadline for the printed calendar.

So after all of these years, how do we maintain the large number of events scheduled for Massachusetts Archaeology Month?  Why do venues want to list their events with us?  What are we offering in return?  A combination of benefits encourages groups to host events.  The most obvious benefit for an event holder is the advertising that we offer for their event (and subsequently for their organization).  Each year we send out thousands of calendar of event booklets, posters, and postcards.  We produce a press release to media outlets large and small across the region.  The opportunity to list an event as part of the larger MAM celebration often nudges organizations to host events that they might not have otherwise scheduled, so they can participate in this larger program.  Often the association with their event and Massachusetts Archaeology Month allows them to gain support from other local partners.  We receive participation from several local CRM companies because the timing (post-field season) makes it easy to schedule public presentations (sometimes required through mitigation). Finally we offer limited “matching” services to help coordinate venues looking for speakers and vice versa.

Looking ahead, there are always ways to improve.  The world is moving toward a more web-based future and so should we.  It is infinitely easier to update the calendar of events (to be more accurate and more inclusive) if we start to emphasize the website and start to phase-out printed calendars.  A notable exception here is that printed calendars work very well as references for institutional use (libraries, schools, museums).

Social media (such as Facebook or Twitter) is another useful tool for the future.  These forums make it easier for people to coordinate events with friends and colleagues, to share information about their plans, to post up to the minute event information, and to share photos from events.

I hope that the success and enthusiasm for Massachusetts Archaeology Month has sparked interest and hope in states that are losing their Archaeology Month program, or perhaps that have never had one.  Other states might choose the coordinating institution to be something other than the SHPO.  A historical society, state archaeological society, or university might spearhead the effort instead.  Additionally, moving archaeology month to a web-based calendar with social media advertising (still coupled with traditional press releases) is a cost effective option for states or groups hoping to re-invigorate their programs with little to no funding.

The effort to organize such a state-wide celebration will be rewarded.  State Archaeology Month programs can be sustainable through local participation, engaging and educational for the public, cost effective, and a great asset.

Do you have an Archaeology Month program in your state?  Have you recently eliminated it from your arsenal of educational tools?  What does Archaeology Month mean to you?

SHA 2015 Seattle: Food and Drink Blog

Besides plenty of stimulating intellectual discourse, what do archaeologists need to make their conference experience complete? Why good food and drink of course (perhaps not in that order)! Luckily there could hardly be a more convenient location than downtown
Seattle to put some of the best there is from coffee to cocktails and accompanying nosh right within walking distance. There are tens if not hundreds of options in the general vicinity and while there are many a solid chain, we thought we’d let you know about some unique-to-Seattle options for a more authentic experience of the city.


The Sheraton is located just blocks from the famed and historic Pike Place Market, so head in that direction at breakfast or lunchtime and you’ll be sure to find something to suit your tastes. That said, it can be quite the busy spot for obvious reasons (like it’s nearly the top tourist attraction in the city) so don’t be surprised by crowds or lines. January being the off-season though, things should be calm enough to enjoy wandering about and you should actually be able to get food in a timely manner.

Ok, so Starbucks is ubiquitous pretty much everywhere, but nowhere more so than here in its hometown. If you want a “unique” Starbucks experience, Pike Place is home to the mega chain’s original location.

For a non-Starbucks coffee experience at Pike Place, try Seattle Coffee Works.

Monorail Espresso, closer to the Sheraton near the corner of Pike and 5th is a walk-up window serving up what’s raved about as some of the best in the city. Cash only.

Café ABoDegas on 6th between Union and University has freshly made breakfast sandwiches and pastries. Lunch too.


Back at Pike Place, there is just about every type of cuisine to choose from come lunchtime.

To take advantage of the readily available fruits of the sea, try Pike Place Chowder. The lines is usually among the longest here, but join the other tourists, their offerings live up to the hype.

Beechers Handmade Cheese offers soups sandwiches and their famous mac and cheese along with a huge selection of, surprise, artisnal cheeses. You can even watch it being made right on site.

Back up near the Sheraton, Umma’s Lunchbox is a much raved about Korean buffet inside the Rainier Square shopping mall located below the iconic Rainier Tower.


For a pint at the end of the day, the Tap House Grill on 6th between Pike and Pine has 160 beers on tap, good place to sample some of the craft brew the Northwest is renowned for.

For really outstanding cocktails, venture to the other side of Pike Place. Tucked away facing onto the Harbor Steps leading down to the waterfront is the Zig Zag Café. Lots of ambiance and excellent food too.

For that special dinner made up of unabated views of Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains (on a clear day, fingers crossed) and all the kinds of Northwest seafood including more types of oysters than you perhaps knew existed, venture down to the waterfront to Elliott’s Oyster House.

Coming up, we’ll provide you with more info/recommendations if you’re interested in striking out further afield in the city during your stay.

Gender and Minority Affairs Committee Diversity Field School Competition

GMAC Diversity Field School Initiative

This year the Gender and Minority Affairs Committee (GMAC) is hosting its second annual Diversity Field School Competition. In an effort to continue making the field of historical archaeology more inclusive of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, and socio-economic background, the competition will recognize those who have shown a commitment to increasing diversity in the field and encourage further discussion of the topic. Applicants are required to submit a short essay on diversity, a summary of their field school, and some form of multimedia (photo, pamphlet, video clip, etc.) that highlights diversity in their field school. All awardees will be acknowledged at the 48th Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology and recognized on the SHA website, while the first place winner will receive special commendation. GMAC encourages submissions from all SHA members and conference attendees. The Application Form is available online and completed applications—as well as additional questions—may be directed to For more information, please refer to the Submission Guidelines.

Toward A More Diverse SHA

The idea for the Diversity Field School Competition developed out of a series of larger discussions within the SHA about viable ways to increase diversity within the organization. At the 2011 SHA conference, GMAC members determined that increasing diversity was an important step toward social justice and helping the SHA reflect the diverse communities historical archaeologists serve. These calls for greater diversity were reinforced by subsequent GMAC panels and initiatives such as the GMAC Student Travel Award and diversity training for SHA board members. Last year former SHA president, Paul Mullins, announced his commitment to “make diversity an increasingly articulate part of the SHA mission and our collective scholarly practice.” Additionally archaeologists abroad are discussing the issue of diversity, particularly after the recent release of the Archaeology Labour Market Intelligence: Profiling the Profession 2012-2013 report which identified 99% of archaeologists working in the UK as white. As a result we hope this competition helps to not only recognize those who have shown a commitment to diversity, but also open dialogue about ways to increase the presence of archaeologists from the many underrepresented groups.

We encourage you to also visit the SHA Events website for more information about other SHA competitions, events, and workshops. Hope to see you all in Seattle!

Interested in becoming a part of the conversation? Let us know how archaeologists can work together to increase diversity in the field.

Meet a Member: William Moss

Here’s the latest in our series of entertaining interviews with a diverse array of your fellow SHA members. Meet a member for the first time or learn something about a colleague that you never knew before. This blog series also offers current members an opportunity to share their thoughts on why SHA membership is important (Camaraderie? Professional service? Exchange of ideas in conference rooms and beyond? You tell us!). If you would like to be an interviewee, please email the Membership Committee Social Media Liaisons Eleanor Breen ( or Kim Pyszka (

William Moss has been the Chief Archaeologist of the City of Québec since 1985. He served on SHA’s Board of Directors for two terms and was president in 2005. He organized the Society’s annual conference on two occasions, first in 2000 then in 2014.

Who influenced your decision to become an archaeologist?

I was inspired to become an archaeologist by Francis Pryor following three seasons on the Fengate Site in Peterborough, England. Francis had a vibrant love for life and an insatiable curiosity about the past. And he wasn’t averse to getting his hands dirty. I liked that!

What is the first site you worked on? What is the last one (or current one)?

The first site I worked on was a volunteer dig on the ruins of a medieval château in Merpin-Vieux-Bourg, near Cognac, France, in 1973. The last —which I have been working on since 1980— is the city-as-site of Québec City, another great project!

If you could go back in time for only 10 seconds – where, when, and why?

It would be during 1543, but I would have to get there to specify the exact moment. I would like to see the first sparks of the burning of the Cartier-Roberval establishment, Charlesbourg Royal, in what is now Québec City. How did the conflagration start? Was it accidental or intentional? If the latter, was it Jacques Cartier or the Sieur de Roberval who gave the order and, if so, why? Or were the native Stadaconians behind the blaze? Seeing this precise incident would resolve issues about relations between the French and Native Americans in the early modern world.

What are you currently reading?

I can’t read one book at a time, I always have a couple on the go! Presently, they are “The Making of British Landscape” (Francis Pryor, 2010, Penguin) and “Archéologie de l’Amérique coloniale française” (Marcel Moussette and Gregory Waselkov, 2014, Lévesque éditeur). Both are extensive voyages through time and space, the synthesis of vast quantities of information by people who have thought long and hard about what they have learned during their exemplary careers.

Why are you a member of SHA?

I am a member of several professional associations, but I have always considered SHA as the most important for me. The Society has kept me in touch with a dynamic international community. I have also come to have many friends in the community. SHA is very convivial both intellectually and socially. I have greatly enjoyed serving the Society and I have always felt my contribution has been appreciated.

At what point in your career did you first join SHA?

I joined the Society when I obtained my first regular employment as an historical archaeologist with Parks Canada. I was a grad student at Université Laval at the time.

How many years have you been a member (approximately)?

Since 1980, so for almost 35 years.

Which article from Historical Archaeology has been the most influential to you?

The proceedings of the 1987 plenary session published in 1988 were extremely interesting for me (Nicholas Honerkamp, “Questions that Count in Archaeology; Plenary Session, 1987 Meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology Conference on Historical and Underwater Savannah, Georgia” 22(1)). I particularly appreciated Mark Leone’s “The Relationship Between Archaeological Data and the Documentary Record: 18th Century Gardens in Annapolis, Maryland” (22(1):29-35)). It closely tied in to a site I was analyzing, the Dufferin Terrace. It allowed me to understand minute phenomena observed in Québec City that, when compared to sites in Maryland, presented a coherent picture of élite behavior in the British colonial world. It also highlighted shifts of behavior as Québec moved from the French to the English Régime. It thus helped me to seat my understanding of the city in a wider international and cultural context.

Which benefit of belonging to SHA do you find the most beneficial?

Having organized two annual meetings for SHA (2000 and 2014), I have to say the conferences! Conferences are the embodiment of the people and the ideas that make SHA so appealing.

Tech Week: Photography in Archaeology

Here is a riddle, what technology is used by an archaeologist working on a 19th century farmstead, an archaeologist recording a wreck in the Mediterranean, and an archaeologist explaining a site to a group of fourth graders? The Answer – Photography. This week the SHA Technology Committee is excited to present the fourth installment of Tech Week on the SHA blog. This tech week focuses on the many uses of photography in archaeology. All three bloggers discuss how they use photography to not only record the past, but how they use it to better understand it too.

The week begins with a post by Drew Fulton. Drew’s work as a conservation photographer and filmmaker took him to the Kızılburun wreck in the Aegean Sea. The logistics of photographing a wreck 150 feet below the surface of the ocean can be staggering, but Drew was able to capture the wreck in breathtaking 360 degree interactive panoramic images.

Following Drew’s post, Karen Price discusses the use of photography in preservation at Mount Vernon. Karen provides tips and tricks for both the amateur artifact photographer and the professional archaeologist, while making a call for all archaeologists to reconsider their approach to field and lab photography. She also provides some stunning examples of her work.

The final blogger for Tech week is Carrie Fulton. Carrie discusses her work on the ship that was discovered at the World Trade Center site in New York City. Typically, archaeologist painstakingly record each timber of a ship, but because of the nature of the site and the heavy push for construction, Carrie and the team of archaeologists working at the site, didn’t have time to record the ship in such detail. Utilizing a wide range of technology they created a detailed digital record that allowed them to create a 3d model of the ship that recorded the exact spatial layout of each timber.

Check out the #TechWeek Posts:

Going Interactive Underwater by Drew Fulton
Preservation Photography: Roles and Rules by Karen Price
Photographs into Models: Documenting the World Trade Center Ship by Carrie Fulton

Going Interactive Underwater

By Drew Fulton

When you first tell people that you are going to spend a couple weeks during the summer diving on a 2,000 year old shipwreck in 150 feet of water in the Aegean Sea, people start asking a lot of questions. It is such a unique experience and the logistics of excavating underwater are so specialized that I wanted to take the opportunity share that experience with others.

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Now, let me put this out there before we get started. I am not an archaeologist or researcher. I am married to one. I work as a conservation photographer and filmmaker, but on occasion I get to tag along on my wife’s projects to help with the media side of things. That is how I ended up diving on the Kızılburun shipwreck about five years ago. As a photographer, I was using 360° interactive panoramic images to transport viewers to hard to access places. Most notably, I had been using this technology to immerse students in the forest canopy in the cloud forests of Costa Rica. So why not try to use the same technology to transport viewers to the sea floor to experience the excavation of the Kızılburun wreck?

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The Kızılburun wreck was a first-century BCE marble carrier that was probably headed to the temple at Claros, transporting a monumental marble column and several other unfinished pieces of marble. This column was nearly 2 meters in diameter and was broken up into 8 separate drums that were almost 1.5 meter tall each and a capital. Each of these marble drums weighed in excess of 8 tons. When the marble had reached Claros, the column would have been assembled by stacking all of the drums on top of each other with the capital on top, and then the flutes would have been cut into the column once it was assembled.

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By the time I came to the project, in the third and final major season of excavation, the drums had been moved from their location in the wreck and placed on a flat piece of bottom about 25 meters from the site. This gave researches access to the fragile remains of the wooden hull and other small artifacts. Throughout the field season, the archaeologists carefully removed the sand, exposing nails and wood that were evidence for the hull.

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Prior to the field season I spent a lot of time researching the technical aspects of 360° panorama. At the time, the most common use for this technology was in the real estate business to showcase homes that were for sale. My previous project, Canopy in the Clouds, took this idea and used it to virtually immerse students in the canopy of Costa Rica’s clouds forests. So while I had created these images while hanging on a rope 100 feet high in a tree, capturing these images underwater was totally new for me. After some research I found there were very few underwater examples available and none that were captured at high resolutions. For the work I had done in the cloud forests, I had utilized a specialized tripod head that helped me to position the camera correctly with a very high precision, something necessary for stitching together the high resolution images. However, since it was an expensive piece of equipment, I had no interest in submerging it in the salt water of the Aegean. This meant I had to basically fabricate my own.

To create these panoramic images doesn’t require a specialized camera or lens, it just requires taking a bunch of images and stitching them together after the fact. I utilize a fisheye lens and take about 6-8 images while rotating the camera horizontally to capture the entire horizon and then take a few images to capture straight up and straight down. It sounds pretty easy but to make a seamless image, the camera has to rotate precisely—that’s where the specialized tripod head comes in to play. Since I didn’t have access to the underwater housing until I was on site and the site was very remote, I had to basically show up with a diverse range of options to fabricate a head on site. It took about three dives of testing and some help from the ship’s captain and his welder, but we fabricated something that resembled a tripod head and worked well enough to get the job done.

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Over the course of 2-3 dives over several days, I started photographing the site and the archaeologists at work. After my dives, I’d quickly download the images and start stitching them to be sure that everything had worked and I could move on to the next image. My goal was to shoot several panoramas to showcase the different areas of the site including the bow, stern, and drum garden. I also spent some time creating panoramas in camp to showcase the place and the work we were doing.

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Now, five years later, technology has come a long way and improved a lot. Today, you can purchase a simple 3D printed holder that will hold six GoPro cameras and not only create panoramas like this but do it in 360° video! This gives the viewer a chance to pan around as the camera moves through the environment!

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Overall, I really enjoyed my time working on the Kızılburun wreck and the challenge of transporting viewers to this unique site. Not being an archaeologist myself, I really enjoyed having an opportunity to experience an excavation and see how things worked. It was my hope that these images will give other viewers the same sneak peak. How have you tried to show others a window into your own work? Do you feel like it has brought attention to you research and opened doors to talking about the work you do?

Acknowledgements: I’d like to thanks Dr. Deborah Carlson for including me on the excavation, Eric Kemp for the use of his camera and housing, Feyyaz Subay for his help welding the improvised tripod head, and my wife, Carrie Fulton, for letting me tag along on the excavation.

Check out the other #TechWeek Posts:

Tech Week: Photography in Archaeology by Jonathan Libbon
Preservation Photography: Roles and Rules by Karen Price
Photographs into Models: Documenting the World Trade Center Ship by Carrie Fulton

Preservation Photography: Roles and Rules

By Karen Price

There’s something about a photograph. Humans are visual and I think pictures can sometimes reach broader audiences than can words. 21st century technology has only helped our addiction to the visual with the advent of digital technology and social media platforms. Digital cameras have now made the photographic process quicker. Yet, their user-friendly, high-quality format as well as their instantaneous outcome has, on the downside, introduced a cult of point-and-shoot photography.

Figure 1: Nine grave shafts exposed during the Mount Vernon Slave Cemetery Survey. Karen. E. Price, Mount Vernon Archaeology.

This is where I was at until around three years ago when I came to Mount Vernon for an archaeology internship. After having a lecture on artifact photography and a project that involved a digital portfolio, I attempted through trial and error to become an artifact photographer for the Archaeological Collections Online project, a two-year endeavor to digitize important finds from the Washington households’ 18thcentury midden. This necessitated taking the camera off automatic, learning about aperture, ISO, shutter speeds and white balance in order to get the best possible shot for the database.

Figure 2: Caption: A standard record shot. Rim and body sherds of a burnished Colonoware vessel with scale, object 2669. Karen E. Price, Mount Vernon Archaeology.

I have now expanded my role from photography intern to Preservation Photographer. There are generally two types of photographs that I take both in the field and in the studio: record shots (figure 2) and creative or candid shots (figure 3). These are not mutually exclusive and all follow the same basic compositional guidelines. I always photograph in RAW format (as opposed to, say, JPG), constantly assess the light, and ask myself if the picture makes sense to the viewer.

Figure 3: A candid, creative shot. Volunteers hold lithics excavated from the Slave Cemetery Survey. Karen E. Price, Mount Vernon Archaeology.

At work my general tasks are to document our current excavations and pre/post/ongoing restoration projects around the Mount Vernon Estate. I also do a bit of landscape photography to aid in the preservation of Mount Vernon’s Viewshed looking east across the Potomac River and I’m starting to assist our Collections staff with in-house photography. My favorite, however, is artifact photography, which is where I feel most comfortable creatively. This not only involves standard record photographs, but dramatic detail shots (figure 4), 360 degree spinning GIFs, and thematic pictures (figure 5). I love how sometimes, with just the right lighting and depth of field, a picture can bring out qualities in an artifact that aren’t as visible with the naked eye (figure 6).

Figure 4: A detail shot. By using raking light coming in from only the left side I was able to bring out the C and sunburst design on this tobacco pipe heel. Object 2906. Karen E. Price, Mount Vernon Archaeology.

I’ve got a couple of projects (experiments) lined up for 2015 that will take me out of my comfort zone and hopefully enhance my photographic skills. For starters, a new photographic technique called Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) that synthesizes multiple photos of an object, each using a different angle of lighting, to bring out 3D details in a 2D format. I’m also going to try and create actual 3D files through digital images using Agisoft Photoscan.

Figure 5: A thematic shot. Buttons excavated from the South Grove Midden. Karen E. Price, Mount Vernon Archaeology.

My main goal in this job, however, is to create a standard protocol for field and artifact photography that anyone can follow. This ensures that archaeologists do not have to simply “point-and-shoot”, but can follow guidelines for setting up a shot. And really, taking a second to think about the composition of a shot will do wonders for the quality of our photographs. In the studio these include photographing in RAW format so that you can correctly adjust gray balance, orienting the object correctly (figure 7) and blocking reflective glare from ceramics. Forget RTI and 3D imaging- basic, high-quality archaeological photography can be done in-house, on a fairly low budget, and by non-photographers.

Figure 6: An hua on porcelain can be difficult to see. By limiting the amount of light the porcelain received I was able to bring out the design a bit more. Chinese Export Porcelain plate, object 2645. Karen E. Price, Mount Vernon Archaeology.

There are a few things you may want to invest in if you’d like to up your photographic game. I’m a big proponent of photographing in RAW format so you’ll need a digital camera capable of this, which will be your biggest investment. You’ll also need a computer software capable of opening RAW files (I use Adobe Photoshop but RawTherapee is a budget-friendly option). In the studio I recommend having an X-rite color checker (this will help correctly color balance your photo), two photographic strobe lights, a tripod, small scales, and a suitable background for your artifacts (black velvet works well with most objects). If I had to pick the bare necessities? The camera, the software, and a color checker.

Figure 7: It can be difficult to arrange multiple non-mending sherds for a photograph. I do my best to line up the decoration and mimic the original curvature of the artifact. Delftware plate, object 2589. Karen E. Price, Mount Vernon Archaeology.

I think that with the current technology we can, and should, expect a change in the discipline in regard to how it treats photographic documentation. I’m all for a great iPhone photo, but I’d love to see archaeologists taking the camera off automatic and experimenting with what today’s digital cameras can do. Our pictures may not speak a thousand words, maybe only a handful. But, if they open up dialog about archaeological research and material culture, or even just get the general public excited about our discipline, then I think they’re worth the effort.

I’d love to hear your tips, thoughts, or questions on archaeological photography!

You can see some of Karen’s preservation photographs on the Mount Vernon Midden database, the Digital Archive of Comparative Slavery, COVA’s Culture Embossed, on Facebook, and on the cover of American Archaeology, fall 2013, volume 17, number 3.

Check out the other #TechWeek Posts:

Tech Week: Photography in Archaeology by Jonathan Libbon
Going Interactive Underwater by Drew Fulton
Photographs into Models: Documenting the World Trade Center Ship by Carrie Fulton

Photographs into Models: Documenting the World Trade Center Ship

By Carrie Fulton

If you attend any archaeology conference or glance through recent issues of journals, you will quickly see the extent to which photogrammetric documentation has become a part of an archaeologist’s toolkit. Take a few photos, import them to software, and hit go. Violà! You now have digital models of your site or object. Ok, so the steps are slightly more detailed, but with new technology, the interfaces and steps to producing accurate models are getting easier and less technical.

The benefits of digital recording are massive: increased speed of recording, preservation of three-dimensional information, geo-referenced data, digital preservation of contexts that are destroyed through the process of excavation, and easy dissemination of information. How can this technology be used effectively? And are there drawbacks? If so, how can they be mitigated?

Let’s look at the excavation and documentation of the remains of a late 18th-century ship discovered during the construction at the World Trade Center site in July 2010.

Figure 1: Remains of the World Trade Center Ship looking from the stern towards the retention wall. (Photo: K. Galligan)

Since the ship was found in one section of an active construction site, we had to move quickly so the timbers could be removed and construction could continue. Approximately 32 feet of the ship’s stern (back end) remained. However, a modern retention wall bisected the ship and destroyed evidence for much of the forward half of the ship except for a very small section of the bow (forward end) of the ship that was uncovered in August 2011 when the other side of the wall was cleared.

To capture the relationship between timbers we used laser scanning, photographs, videography, and sketches. This enabled us to give each timber a unique identification so that upon disassembly we could keep track of each piece and reconstruct the in situ relationship. Once removed from the site, we had more time to analyze the timbers, but the next step in the preservation of the ship hadn’t been determined. We were faced with the question: How do we record each timber accurately and quickly? We settled on an approach that combined traditional methods for documenting timbers with recent advances in photogrammetry to create three-dimensional digital recordings of the timbers.

Figure 2: Making a 1:1 tracing of a frame. (Photo: D. Fulton)

Traditionally, nautical archaeologists record the dimensions by tracing the timbers in 1:1 reproductions or making scaled drawings of each face (Figure 2). The advantage of this approach is the close examination and documentation of each face, noting patterns in fasteners, tool patterns, and any biological growth that might be indicative of post-depositional processes. However, this method is extremely time consuming, and there is the possibility for dimensions to be distorted in tracing (due to parallax) or in condensing information into a scaled drawing.

For the best use of resources and time, we made 1:1 tracings of the two sides of the frames where the ceiling planking and the outer planking were attached. This allowed us to record the arrangement in nail patterns, which is crucial to answering questions about whether the ship timbers had been repaired. To document the curves of the frames that are difficult to render in two dimensions, we used photogrammetry to generate three-dimensional models. For all other timbers of the ship, we also used photogrammetry rather than tracings.

Each timber still had its own data sheet with notations for tool marks, measurements, marine growth, and any other information that might aid in the reconstruction of the ship and its life history. However, the timber is now preserved in a digital record as a three-dimensional model. Creating a model involved a three-step procedure:

Figure 3: Drew Fulton photographs a frame which was imported into PhotoModeler Scanner.

STEP 1: Photograph the timber. For the version of PhotoModeler Scanner in 2010, stereo pairs of photographs were taken from each side of the object, with the photographer maintaining a 45-degree angle between the object and the camera. To aid in linking the photographs together, computer generated and coded dots were placed around the timber. We used push-pins to mark nails and other features so that they could be easily spotted in photographs. This allowed us to maintain the high degree of detail afforded by the tracing method while decreasing recording time.

Figure 4: 3D model of a timber created in PhotoModeler Scanner.

STEP 2: Generate 3D data. The photographs were then used to create a 3D model in PhotoModeler Scanner by first creating cloud data of the timber and then transforming the cloud data into a triangulated mesh. This mesh recorded the curves of the timbers and was exported into the NURBS modeling software Rhinoceros.

Figure 5: Reconstruction of the small deck.

STEP 3: Render into a model. Using Rhinoceros, a 3D image was created and nails were added following the locations of preserved nails. From this model, individual drawings can be produced to link the timber to information from field notes and examination in the lab. Additionally, these individual pieces were combined digitally in Rhinoceros to reconstruct the ship, using the aid of data from the laser scan.

Figure 6: Reconstruction of a frame in Rhinoceros.

The emphasis for us was integrating three-dimensional recording techniques with traditional measuring and documentation techniques to quickly and accurately record the ship and enable analysis when access to the actual timbers may not be possible. On the one hand, it is easy to see the benefits: it’s a fast process in the field, it preserves and records curves very well, it facilitates collaboration and dissemination of information with digital files that can be easily shared. On the other hand, we tend not to think about the costs associated with it: digital cameras with high resolution files requiring terabytes of storage, the possibility of having corrupt hard drives, and long hours and tedious manual work to render the digital data into final forms. Most significantly, while advances in digital technology enable better documentation, will these advances make our early attempts obsolete? For example, the version of PhotoModeler Scanner that we used has already been updated, no longer requiring stereo-photographs. Using the photographs from the World Trade Center Ship, I am eager to try rendering models using newer versions of software to see what these changes might mean for our data. However, what would happen if I could no longer open the software used to access the data?

The power of photogrammetric techniques lies in their integration with traditional techniques, using them alongside measurements and drawings to record the archaeological data. While it’s a helpful tool, we still need to future-proof our data. From the 3D models, we can still produce standard drawings and take measurements. By supplementing recordings in the field and tape measurements, this redundancy can help catch errors in recording while producing a complete visual record of the object.

While moving forward with new technologies and digital recording procedures, are we at risk of advancing too quickly? Is there a risk that we will no longer have the computer programs or software to open these files and thus render our documentation obsolete? Or, is this a way of ‘future-proofing’ our data?


Archaeologists at AKRF, INC., Diane Dallal, Michael Pappalardo, Elizabeth Meade, and Molly McDonald, managed the excavation of the site for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC). The principle investigation of the ship was led by Warren Riess (University of Maine) and Carrie Fulton (Cornell University). Drawings were made by Kathleen Galligan. Drew Fulton (Drew Fulton Photography) photographed onsite panoramas and the timbers for photogrammetry. Timbers were initially stored at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory and are now held in the Conservation Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University. The LMDC and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey provided funding for this project.

Check out the other #TechWeek Posts:

Tech Week: Photography in Archaeology by Jonathan Libbon
Going Interactive Underwater by Drew Fulton
Preservation Photography: Roles and Rules by Karen Price

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