Katherine McCusker

Duke's Vulci Excavation

Katherine McCusker uses a differential GPS to triangulate the position of the excavation area and the total station base locations.
Katherine McCusker uses a differential GPS to triangulate the position of the excavation area and the total station base locations.

Vulci, Italy: Summer, 2016

During the summer of 2016, I was able to accomplish all of my goals with the support from the classics department’s Summer Research Travel Grant. The objectives for my summer research were threefold. First, we were to begin excavation in a 15 by 20 meter area near the western forum, which would support or disprove my GPR (ground penetrating radar) interpretations. Next, I aimed to assess the overall site as a viable area on which to concentrate my research surrounding temporal transition. Finally, I examined various digital techniques as applied to archaeology for their utility in my dissertation. The success of these goals has allowed my research to progress and has provided a wealth of data to analyze this fall.

The excavation was successful in uncovering a number of impressive artifacts including several datable coins, various types of marble, and a multitude of pottery sherds. This fieldwork reveled a number of walls and a small room with only one entrance from the main street. The function of the room is still unknown, but could have important implications being so close to the forum. Further analysis of the data will be required this year to determine the necessary direction for next summer’s fieldwork.

The multitude of digital techniques I explored and documented this summer were the most successful aspect of this summer’s fieldwork. I worked with a robotic total station, which allowed us to quickly and accurately record the height and location of everything from trench corners to features (such as walls) to the location of important finds. This data will be imported into ArcGIS, a digital mapping program, allowing for a layered analysis with other geospatial data. We utilized photogrammetry this summer to record the state of units in order to digitally preserve each step of the excavation. This documentation allows for post-excavation analysis by viewing units throughout the whole excavation in 3D for more complete interpretations. The 3D models created from this process will provide the basis for any plans, measurements, or additional simulations. This summer the Vulci3000 team began testing the first prototype of the Smart Trowel. This trowel aims to collect data as the excavator digs, and while the testing revealed some areas that need improvement the project looks promising.

An EB drone was the final digital technology with which I engaged this summer. This drone, along with a pilot— Everette Newton, was loaned to us from the Duke Marine Lab. I worked with Mr. Newton during the full week he was at Vulci, and we collected coverage of the entire park for RGB, red edge, and near infrared data. Mr. Newton taught me numerous skills that will have vital future use in my research, such as how to plan flights, assemble and do preflight checks, assess weather conditions and the surrounding area, take off and land the craft, troubleshoot problems during flight, and the proper way to record flight data. Mr. Newton’s previous drone work with coastal erosion and marine life surveys allowed us to discuss different approaches across our disciplines, which provided new ideas for both of our research projects. I have plans to work further with Mr. Newton and the Duke Marine Lab for post-processing analysis and additional training. 

The success of my summer research in Italy and the quantity of data collected would not have been possible without the support from the classics Research Travel Award. This fall, I plan to take the data collected this summer and begin analyzing our spatial data in GIS and exploring new ways in which to view and compare the other types of data collected. I also plan to work with Bill Seaman to analyze our whole body of data and inferences by creating new relationalities as well as a method to automate this process with a digital “Inference Engine.” Finally, I will assess the digital techniques we used and determine the level of success for each process, which will lead to research on new techniques that would be useful in future fieldwork.