Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Guest blog: New ways archaeologists ‘dig out’ answers

By: Victoria Nagy, MSc

After spending a field season conducting consultant archaeological field work in Ontario, I wanted to work in a research facility, an environment I enjoyed during my Masters studies. Therefore, I was excited to join the staff at Sustainable Archaeology: Western University. During my past undergraduate and graduate studies I had been exposed to digital archaeology and database development but I had never been able to directly apply those skills.

I was fascinated by the shear potential for research at Sustainable Archaeology since I was first introduced to the facility back in October 2015. As an archaeologist with a background in scientific applications, I was especially interested in its scope and equipment. Research facilities such as Sustainable Archaeology are extremely rare in Canadian archaeology, its existence and continuing innovation fill a scientific void in Ontario archaeology. Sustainable Archaeology: Western University and Sustainable Archaeology: McMaster University showcase how Ontario values archaeological research and will focus on scientific applications to further understand Ontario’s rich heritage.

Hilary Kiazyk, a part-time employee at SA: Western, using the Artec Spider to scan a mammoth tooth (a part of a collection from the Museum of Ontario Archaeology) (Feb. 29, 2016).

My first week at SA I familiarised myself with two of our 3D scanning technologies: the white light scanner and the mobile Artec Spider scanner (blue light scanner). I created a 3D model of a projectile point using the Artec Spider and tried my hand at using a white light scanner with a Historic smoking pipe. The Artec Spider blue light scanner proved to be my favourite piece of equipment in the imaging lab. The speed at which it captured images greatly shorted the imaging process. Also, the editing functions were easier to use and more comprehensive. I definitely enjoyed forming an opinion about these incredible pieces of equipment.

I was also able to print a previously rendered 3D model to better understand the 3D printing process. I learned how key texture editing is to the printing process. Since SA’s 3D printer is a powder printer that applies texture (colour in layman’s terms) during the printing process, editing the texture before printing to obtain the most lifelike texture (and then ensuring the texture seen on a computer monitor is adjusted to reflect the real texture) is essential to creating a lifelike replica. Through their work with 3D printing, SA is creating a new collection of archaeological mimics that can be used for display, study or function.

The applications of 3D scanning and printing are endless. Two replicas of the famed Ötzi were recently produced at Materialise in Leuven, Belgium as a dual effort by the DNA Learning Center and the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. The team who replicated Ötzi via 3D printing used a CT scanner to generate the 3D model of Ötzi, much like the Micro CT scanner SA owns and operates. The Micro CT scanner at SA is primarily used to understand the internal structures of artifacts. Internal structures can convey to archaeologists how artifacts were made, what materials were used, and reveal any unseen processes. Using a Micro CT scanner would have brought another dimension to my past research studying the newly introduced rehydroxylation (RHX) dating technique. I was only able to conduct Thermogravimetric Analysis (TGA), which analyses materials’ response to intense heat (Nagy 2015). Access to a Micro CT scanner would have provided me with a much more accurate examination of the internal construction of my samples. The fact that this equipment is available to Western students, and other researchers is so important for future research in Ontario and the wider academic community.

Staff of Materialise and Gary Staab (the expert paleoartist behind the Ötzi replicas - second from the left) (Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory 2016).

As my time at Sustainable Archaeology continues I am constantly amazed at this facility and the potential it represents for the archaeological community in Ontario. The non-destructive analysis conducted here is necessary for the archaeological research of the future. Sustainable Archaeology is providing the next generation of archaeologists with the tools they need to conduct high caliber research. Sustainable Archaeology has facilitated new processes for archaeologists to ‘dig out’ conclusions. I look forward to my time here and the research in the immediate future that results directly from Sustainable Archaeology’s efforts.


Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory (2016). The making of Otzi the Iceman. https://www.dnalc.org/programs/otzi.html?utm_source=ALL+CUSTOMERS&utm_campaign=9ea4241666-MED_Otzi&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_7544445bcb-9ea4241666-63081529&goal=0_7544445bcb-9ea4241666-63081529.

Nagy, V. 2015. A methodological study of a simplified rehydroxylation dating procedure (Unpublished Master’s thesis). Durham University, Durham, UK.

Author biography

Victoria Nagy is a new addition to Sustainable Archaeology: Western University. Victoria graduated in 2015 with Distinction from Durham University with a Master of Science in Archaeological Science. In 2013, she graduated with Distinction from Wilfrid Laurier University with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Near Eastern and Classical Archaeology. Victoria has conducted archaeological field work in Jordan, the United Kingdom, as well as northern and southern Ontario. She has joined Sustainable Archaeology as a Data Entry Assistant to aid existing staff with database development. This week is her fourth week with SA: Western.