Roc de Marsal


We try to use technology where ever possible to make the excavation, analysis and publication go as quickly, efficiently and error-free as possible.  Technology has also allowed us to collect new kinds of data that give us new insights into Neandertal sites.
Recording a point with a total station.  Note the excavator holding a prism in the background and the hand-held computer in the foreground.One of the key pieces of computer equipment is the total station (shown in the photo).  This instrument can measure the three-dimensional location of an artifact to within 1 or 2 millimeters in seconds.  The operator points the instrument at a reflective prism held over the object.  The instruments bounces an infrared beam off of the prism and calculates the distance.  The distance combined with two angles, one vertical and the other horizontal, allows the computer to calculate the X, Y and Z coordinates.  These coordinates are then passed electronically to a laptop or hand-held computer running some software we wrote.  This software allows other observations to be attached to each measure.  For us these include the number of the object, the archaeological level, the kind of object (eg. bone, stone, etc.) the name of the excavator, and the date and the time.
A vertical section plot of Roc de Marsal artifacts.The data that come from the total station are integrated into a geographic information system (GIS) each day (see also software we wrote).  A GIS allows spatial information about where each artifact was uncovered to be easily integrated with other kinds of data, like what kind of object it is.  In this way we can use the GIS to search for patterning in the levels we excavate.  Some kinds of patterning are indicative of Neandertal behaviors, but other kinds of patterning tell us something about natural processes that may have disturbed the site after the Neandertals left their artifacts behind.  The GIS also allows us to check our data each day and verify that it is error free. 
A sample bar-code.Using a wand to scan a bar-code.  We now also use laser bar-code scanners like those found in supermarkets.Each artifact, as it is excavated, is given a unique identifier (ID) that consists of the name of the square (H12 in this case) and a sequential number.  This ID is all important as it links the artifact with information on where it was found and what it is analyzed as.  We mark the ID on the artifact itself, but we also put each artifact in a bag with a barcode.  The barcode can then be scanned as the artifact moves through the laboratory process.  This greatly speeds some operations, like sorting artifacts by archaeological level (analogues to sorting mail by zip code - it goes faster if machines can read the codes), and it reduces the likelihood of bad IDs being entered into the system.
Analyzing stone tools with digitical calipers, a digital scale, and a data entry program.In the lab, the stone tools are studied using a network of computers running specialized data entry software.  This software interacts with the main database to insure that each artifact has a valid identification number and that each artifact is studied only once.

The data entry program collects data using prepared menus that reduce the possibility of typos and generally speed the data entry process.  In addition, measurements are made with electronic calipers (shown in photo) connect directly to the computer.
Additional Links
There is more about how a total station works at one of our Pech IV web sites.
And more on computers in archaeology as well.