iSGTW Feature - ArchaeoGrid: a window to the past

Feature - ArchaeoGrid: a window to the past

A fusion of aerial satellite data with geophysical maps in Crete, Greece.
Image courtesy of ArchaeoGrid

The life of an archaeologist never was very much like the life of Indiana Jones, and, as the field progresses, it becomes less so.

Research has grown more quantitative. Statistical resources such as large data sets, complex models, and abundant computing power are becoming as important to the archaeologist's toolbox as a notebook, dusting brush, and possibly even bullwhip.

"Starting in the 1960's the field of archaeology saw a change," says Pier Giovanni Pelfer, from the University of Florence, Italy. "Using new techniques and tools, such as carbon-14 dating, researchers were able to ask new questions."

Technology, Pelfer is careful to note, is no substitute for old-fashioned fieldwork. Instead, it is a support, and one that enables new routes of inquiry.

During the last 25 years, archaeologists in the Mediterranean have accumulated large amounts of computerized data that have remained trapped in localized and often proprietary databases.

With ArchaeoGrid, a grid computing project coordinated by Pelfer, and inspired by the work of archaeologist Giuliano Pelfer, this information may be brought together and shared between researchers, students, and the general public.

ArchaeoGrid, a project born at the National Institute of Nuclear Physics and the Institute for Complexity Study, both in Florence, Italy, has the ambitious vision of creating a computer model that weaves together data from many sources and predicts feedback interactions.

The data will come from geographical and geological information; botanical descriptions such as fossilized pollen records; economic data; records of human migration and settlement; and artifacts, among other sources.

For example, ArchaeoGrid can create a palaeoclimate simulation and predict how changes to climate, from the agricultural revolution 8,000 years ago, influenced human settlement patterns.

Today the life of an archaeologist involves more than good looks and exotic locations.
Image © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved.

By gridifying this tool, using gLite middleware, ArchaeoGrid can access the large amount of computing power needed for the model's calculations.

Further, the use of grid computing allows data from distributed archives to be integrated and interfaced together without requiring large efforts to migrate the data to a central place.

ArchaeoGrid is currently in the testbed phase and is seeking the funding that will allow it to go into production.

If sufficient funding is achieved, this tool, applicable to archaeological studies anywhere in the world, will let researchers step virtually into the past through a computer program.

"Sometimes, when we imagine the life of an archaeologist, we think unrealistically of romantic adventures," says Pelfer.

However, the ability to address new questions with the aid of modern technology is at least as interesting, albeit not as adrenaline-inducing, as fleeing a giant boulder.

ArchaeoGrid is an application of EUMEDGRID, an initiative to create a grid infrastructure across the Mediterranean and to promote collaboration within the region.

- Danielle Venton, iSGTW