DATABASE: What Lies Beneath

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Science  06 Sep 2002:
Vol. 297, Issue 5587, pp. 1615
DOI: 10.1126/science.297.5587.1615b

This radar image shows the buried foundation of a razed Civil War-era church in Mount Comfort, Arkansas. Ground-penetrating radar is one of a slew of techniques that enable archaeologists to peer beneath the surface before they dig, pinpointing finds from single artifacts to entire villages. Persuading researchers to try these revealing but underused methods is the aim of the North American Database of Archaeological Geophysics, headed by archaeologist Kenneth Kvamme of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

A good place to start is the educational materials section, which introduces different techniques. For example, because packed soil doesn't conduct electricity as well as damp, loose soil, gauging the electrical resistivity at a site can uncover hidden paths and trenches. Magnetic measurements can reveal whether topsoil has been shifted, indicating past digging and construction. You can peruse the projects database that summarizes geophysical readings from more than 100 sites in North and Central America—from Indian dwellings in North Dakota to the pyramid-filled ancient city of Teotihuacan in Mexico. There's also a gallery of images from the sites and a virtual Rolodex of companies, consultants, researchers, and labs that practice the methods.

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