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New technology innovates the field and the classroom

TAMPA, Fla. -- Lori Collins and Travis Doering, research assistant professors at the University of South Florida and co-directors for the Alliance for Integrated Spatial Technology, stand at the front of a banquet room in one of the high-rises in downtown Tampa. On the projector, a digital 3-D image of a huge stone sculpture, dating back to the late Preclassic era, spins 360 degrees, vertical and horizontal, in front of the audience.

The lighting and contrast is adjusted, letting everyone see the intricate details. Collins, controlling the cursor, stops on a topside view of the artifact. Doering says, “This group is the most people to see the top of this monument in all of history.”

Progression like this, as well as many other benefits like heritage preservation and progressive education, is now accessible because of cutting-edge technology like the Terrestrial LiDAR scanning system used by AIST. Two of the first archaeologist using this technology in Florida, Collins and Doering are creating huge advancements in their field.

This technology allows for cultural and heritage preservation because there is no digging.

“Excavation equals destruction,” Collins says. The LiDAR scanner is non-invasive and documents landscapes and stone monuments without destroying or removing them.

“Someone once asked me if we have ever dug up any Indian burial grounds,” Collins jokes, speaking about an excavation on the Crystal River in Florida, where burial mounds were dug up and damaged. “No, but we’ve put them back together.” Using the laser scanning technology, Collins and Doering were able to scan the ground and return the coffins back to their original locations.

Heritage, vanishing and irreplaceable, is a big deal to Doering and Collins, and it’s a problem that applies globally. Historic sites and artifacts are being destroyed at a rapid pace, due to factors such as tourists, air pollution and acid rain. What is even faster though, is this new technology.

“Things that take months to map are now taking hours,” Doering explains. This incredibly fast mapping also has an accuracy of 2 millimeters.

Collins and Doering helped researchers and scholars in Chalcatzingo, Mexico at one of the most imperiled architectural sites in the world. The rapid response allowed by the scanning technology preserved the site, mapping 100 acres of land and monuments.

“Preservation of these sites ensures learning,” Collins says.

At USF, this new technology is being integrated into the classroom.

“Archaeology is changing like everything else,” Collins says.

Doering and Collins work to keep their students current, using their research and technical methods to teach classes. The creation of replicas is also applied and used for learning. This brings new opportunity and hands-on experience for USF students, such as internships with Florida Park Services and software companies.

“The technology being brought back to the classroom allows different studies and different mindsets to work together and solve problems,” Doering says.

Doering and Collin’s progression of education continues outside of USF. Students in the classroom and people all around the world can view their research online. On their website, maps of historic sites, high-resolution detail of ancient monuments and 3-D interactive models of various artifacts can be searched through and compared. They also train other professionals around the world to use the Terrestrial LiDAR, ensuring heritage preservation.

The Trail Blazers lecture series, where guests can see speakers like Collins and Doering, provides an opportunity to share a meal with a scholar. A college tradition for more than 30 years, these events showcase some of USF’s top faculty who are advancing research and knowledge in their fields of expertise.


Filed under:Arts and Sciences Anthropology Alliance for Integrated Spatial Technology (AIST) Research  
Author: Sarah Martin