August 06, 2013

The Tech-Savvy Archaeologist

Wentworth professor Jody Gordon, as seen on site in Cyprus

A prevailing Cyprus sun bakes the region of Aphrodite’s Isle on a summer afternoon as seasoned archaeologist Jody Gordon climbs into an impossibly dark, ancient tomb. Where his predecessors might have had to rely on memory and a pad of paper, though, Gordon and his colleague R. Scott Moore employ a Leica C10 laser scanner to accurately capture the tomb as a 3D image. Moore then processes the data and Gordon uploads the imagery to an iPad, digitally preserving the day’s findings.

As a new assistant professor in Wentworth’s College of Arts and Sciences, Gordon is providing a new way to look at the ancient world and new methods for students to employ in a profession that has existed for many years.

Gordon excavating in CyprusGordon, who holds a Ph.D. in Roman Archaeology from the University of Cincinnati, has been working with the Athienou Archaeological Project in Cyprus for the better part of eight years. “I think Cyprus offers a major look at how different empires work and affect culture,” said Gordon, noting that the area was particularly affected by both Ptolemaic and Roman rule. “People saw Cyprus as a very strategic place.” The influence the two empires left can be found today in excavated coins, statues, and various buildings, all of which Gordon has studied at length.

Gordon considers Cyprus to be a treasure trove of artifacts, but until as recently as last year, his team continued to write down and draw by hand the observations they made. Those methods changed for most of the team with Gordon’s introduction of iPads in 2012, allowing archaeologists to digitally take notes at the scene, eliminating the need to convert and re-type material later in the lab. “We had to examine variables including dirt and dust getting into the machines, the effect of the Cyprus heat, and how long it would take to train everyone (on new archaeological software programs),” he said.

While Gordon related that there was some resistance from seasoned archaeologists, most people, including students, quickly took to the technology, with positive results. In fact, Gordon stated that the iPads allowed for the collection of more data, as well as the implementation of new features including on-site video. Students also had the ability to cross-reference certain findings via web-based databases on their machines.

In his teaching at Wentworth this fall, Gordon plans to use the ancient world as a basis for students to think about urban planning, how technology affects society, and other modern issues that ancient civilizations also dealt with. He is also thankful for Wentworth’s proximity to the Museum of Fine Arts and plans to take students to the museum to bring to life some of the artifacts he describes in class before asking them how a certain piece fits into his five features of civilization: religion, economics, politics, art and architecture, and technology.

Gordon’s ideas for future classes include looking at the depiction of the ancient world in Hollywood through the years, taking a group of students to Cyprus, and implementing more technology into his teachings.

“When we send a student out the door, what are we giving them to understand the world they’re entering?” Gordon asked. “We really want to integrate the technology that people are interested in during college with fields like archaeology and then give them a great chance of finding a job afterward.”

 

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