Category Archives: Summer Research 2020

Student updates on research projects undertaken during the summer of 2020.

Quarries, Towers, and Sanctuaries on Naxos

Evan Levine, a PhD student at the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World currently at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, spent the summer on the ground in Greece. You can read about new research that he and fellow PhD student Rebecca Levitan (University of California, Berkeley) undertook on the island of Naxos on their blog Notes from Naxos!

Notes from Naxos

3D Modeling Building 1369

An update from Parker Zane, undergraduate concentrator in Archaeology and the Ancient World

This summer, Zach Dunseth and I produced a 3D photogrammetric model of the foundations of Building 1369, commonly referred to as one of two ‘Assyrian’ Palaces at the site of Megiddo (modern Israel). Originally, this International Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award (UTRA) project aimed at producing a 3D model using data collected during the planned summer 2020 field season. However, since we were unable to conduct fieldwork, we had to adjust our plans to fit in a virtual context. Instead, this project relied on legacy aerial drone data collected by Matthew J. Adams during the 2018 excavations.

Aerial photo of Megiddo (Abraham Graicer 2011, Wikimedia Commons)

The aim of this project was to produce a model and to contextualize the architectural style of the Building 1369 within its broader Near Eastern context. We utilized Agisoft Metashape to compile 134 aerial photographs to produce a sub-centimeter-accurate georeferenced 3D photogrammetric model. This model will soon be distributed for free on Sketchfab (https://sketchfab.com/jvrp/collections/megiddo). The next step of the project will be to import the model into SketchUp to produce an artistic reconstruction of the structure, informed by comparative evidence from other large palatial structures in the Levant and in Assyria.

Working image of 3D model in Agisoft Metashape (Z. Dunseth)

I am grateful for the opportunity to learn how to produce 3D photogrammetric models and the chance to study one aspect of Megiddo in great detail. I would like to thank the Karen T. Romer Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award for support to conduct research this summer; the directors of the Megiddo Expedition, Israel Finkelstein (Tel Aviv University), Mario A.S. Martin (Tel Aviv University) and especially Matthew J. Adams (W.F. Albright Institute for Archaeological Research, Jerusalem) for allowing me to use his previously collected data; and Zachary Dunseth for his guidance and mentorship over the course of this project.

Remote Archaeobiological Microscopy

An update from Rachel Kalisher, PhD Student, Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World

For the first time in nine years, I was not in the field excavating this summer. Instead, I was working under the guidance of Andrew Scherer on a proctorship focusing on Remote Archaeobiological Microscopy, which included adapting bench microscope spaces to environments best suited for remote work, as well as continuing to develop methodologies for capturing various types of images for different biological tissues.

Three microscopes were setup on Rhode Island Hall’s Mezzanine; two polarizing microscopes were placed in the larger half of the space and one stereoscopic microscope was placed on the smaller half. The supply station and microscopes were in common spaces, while individual workspaces were cordoned off for individual researchers to store supplies and materials without needing to touch or contaminate other work benches.

Initial laboratory setup on RI Hall Mezzanine with designated common and individual spaces. Polarizing microscope bench on left, stereoscopic microscope bench on right.

Once setup was complete, I had two objectives for the proctorship. The first was to image a bone cast under stereoscopic light for an ongoing investigation into an archaeological trephination. The other was to image bone thin sections in polarizing light to observe cellular structures for my ScM in the Open Graduate Education Program.

The bone cast is of a skull trephination from Megiddo, Israel. I am preparing this Late Bronze Age case study for publication, and in doing so needed to investigate the trephination at the microscopic level. Understanding the way that the cuts were made, including patterning and whether they were done with a metal or stone implement, will be important pieces of information for my bioarchaeological reconstruction of the events. For this task I used a Leica EZ4D stereoscopic microscope, which has several lighting settings that illuminate the different topographies of the cast’s surface.

Observing the trephination cast with the Leica microscope.

My second goal was achieved using the polarizing microscope, a Nikon Labophot, which produced beautiful images of the cells in the spongy bone of a macaque vertebra. I had previously prepared these vertebral bone samples as thin sections at the Histology and Correlative Microscopy Center at NYU. Part of my ongoing ScM work in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology aims to quantify cells in the vertebrae to understand how reproductive physiology impacts bone’s microstructures. This summer I used these micrographs to foray into analysis in ImageJ (FIJI), where I began toying with machine learning methods for quantification. I still have much to learn on this front, but the dedicated time and resources provided through the proctorship allowed me to develop these invaluable new skills.

Polarized micrograph of a macaque vertebra.
Example of machine-learning interface on ImageJ.

It is important to note that this proctorship’s success was possible not only through the mentorship of Andrew Scherer, but also through the generosity of JIAAW scholars, as well as internal and external funding bodies. I would like to thank Laurel Bestock for the loan of her DSLR camera, as well as Peter van Dommelen, Sarah Sharpe and Jess Porter for facilitating the purchase of a high-powered touch screen PC laptop that processed micrographs and ran analytical software with ease. Many thanks are owed to Zachary Dunseth, who lent both his expertise and polarizing microscopes, in addition to the many accessories necessary for microscopic work. I would finally like to thank the Society of Classical Studies Women’s Classical Caucus (SCS/WCC) COVID-19 Relief Fund, which during the most uncertain of times  allowed me to purchase the Leica EZ4D microscope for use in this and ongoing projects. Thank you all for this support.

While missing field work, I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity to spend my summer building new skillsets in archaeological microscopy. The experience gained throughout this process will undoubtedly enhance my researching abilities as I progress through the ScM and PhD.

Progetto S’Urachi

An update from Anna Soifer, PhD Student, Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World

Since we couldn’t be in the field this summer, members of the Progetto S’Urachi, myself included, turned to Zoom and Google Docs to hold a virtual writing campaign. We were lucky – last summer we completed a study season for the project’s Area E, which put us in a good position to start working on a manuscript for the publication of the area this summer. My role in the 2019 study season had been as part of the ceramic analysis team, specifically looking at fabrics (the actual ceramic material) with the goal of defining the development of ceramic traditions at S’Urachi through time.

Left: Sherds awaiting analysis. Right: Magnified photos taken of fabric samples using an electronic microscope (DinoLite), fabrics 1B, 1C, and 4 from top to bottom.

For the 2020 writing campaign, my job was to co-write the fabrics section of the Area E publication with Peter van Dommelen, using data collected last summer. This first meant cleaning the data: making sure all our counts had been copied into Excel correctly, calculating the percentage of the assemblage represented by each fabric in each context, and correlating those to the chronological ‘Events’ defined by other team members studying stratigraphy and diagnostic ceramics.

Wrangling the data.

Then analysis and interpretation – identifying trends, discussing what they meant, and deciding how to represent them (sherd counts or weight? bar graph or scatter plot?) – became the subject of multiple Zoom calls and long email threads. I even got a crash course in graphing with R!

First attempt at graphing the fabric trends – way too busy!
Fabric 1 trends.

We did the actual writing collaboratively on a Google Doc, each drafting a few sections and then going through multiple rounds of commenting and editing. Our section – text and figures – is now complete and waiting for translation into Italian in the next phase of the campaign. It will be exciting to watch the progress of the volume and see our study incorporated into a larger story of connectivity and colonial contacts at S’Urachi during the 1st millennium BCE.