Pam Casto is an education specialist in NASA IV&V’s Educator Resource Center. She is also a freelance archeology technician.
Many are surprised to learn that Googling the term “NASA Archaeology” will return 6,060 hits.
NASA, while developing remote sensing technology to examine far off places, has made life much easier for archaeologists on Earth. In the past searching for a lost tomb, lost city or even an entire lost civilization could take months or years. Now, it often only takes days.
With instruments on many different types of spacecraft, NASA examines the universe in many wavelengths of light: radio waves, microwaves, infrared waves, visible light waves, ultraviolet waves, x-rays and gamma rays. NASA also studies earth with some of these wavelengths and that has made archaeologists very happy.
For example, Dr. Compton Tucker, senior Earth scientist at NASA’s Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at Goddard Space Flight Center, used cutting-edge NASA technology, including magnetometers and ground-penetrating radar (GPR), to assist the government of Turkey in the location and excavation of ancient tombs. Tucker and his teams were racing against tomb robbers to find undisturbed tombs filled with archaeological treasures.
Thanks to NASA IV&V, educators in W.Va. also had the opportunity to use GPR to try to locate missing graves. With contributions from IV&V, WV Space Grant Consortium, Fairmont State University, Ohio Valley Archaeology and the Morgantown History Museum, W.Va. educators at a week-long 2011 summer camp explored how NASA uses wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum to study features of outer space and features here on Earth. One day was spent in an attempt to verify and validate stories of missing graves by doing a GPR survey to look for features at Kern’s Fort, a pre-Revolutionary War fort in Morgantown. GPR uses electromagnetic radiation in the microwave band to detect the reflected signals from subsurface structures. Graves typically reflect the waves differently than the surrounding soil.
Kern’s Fort was built in 1772 as a fortified cabin. Around 1774, a stockade wall was added. According to early records, it was one of the largest private forts in the area. There are sources from the late 1700’s and early 1800’s that refer to eleven burials at or near the fort. These include two children and six slaves who died of smallpox, two men killed in a skirmish with Native Americans (who were siding with the British), and Michael Kern’s himself, believed to be buried within one hundred yards of the fort. After the Revolutionary War, the stockade and various outbuildings inside it were taken down. The city of Morgantown grew up around the remaining cabin which was covered over with wooden lapboards in the 1800’s and still remains standing today on a small corner lot.
Under the direction of Dr. Jarrod Burk, a leading eastern US geophysical archaeologist, and the staff of IV&V’s Educator Resource Center, a GPR survey was performed around the fort itself and in some of the neighboring yards. Various anomalies were located and recorded. Interestingly, these anomalies appeared to start at a depth consistent with 1700’s artifacts recovered in a single 50 cm diameter shovel test pit excavated a few feet from the back wall of the fort. Last summer educators dug more test pits in neighboring yards and uncovered handmade clay marbles, post-Civil War pharmaceutical glass and an interesting unidentified ceramic object. To determine if any of the anomalies are indeed the missing graves, an excavation would need to be conducted with the approval of the State Historical and Preservation Office. But it is now known, thanks to IV&V’s ERC, places to begin the excavations!
Pictured below: Just a few of the more than 100 artifacts recovered from a small shovel test pit.
NASA’s Independent Verification & Validation Program