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Implementing Photogrammetry in Three Bioarchaeological Contexts: Steps for In-Field Documentation

  • Anna C. Novotny (a1)

Human skeletal remains hold a wealth of information about past life-ways, but their documentation and recovery from archaeological contexts is challenging. Four challenges face bioarchaeological field work: poor skeletal preservation; complex mortuary traditions; sub-par excavation conditions; and excavation time limits. Poor preservation often prevents the collection of metric data from skeletons. This project tested whether a bioarchaeologist with basic photography skills and excavation equipment could address these challenges using photogrammetry. Photogrammetry was employed at the ancient Maya sites of Say Kah and Chan Chich, both located in northern Belize, to document human skeletal remains and their archaeological contexts. Steps are provided for implementing photogrammetry in the field, as well as addressing challenges for using the technique during burial documentation. This project produced only one adequate 3-D model and no metric data could be collected. Overall, photogrammetry seems to be a promising method for bioarchaeological research because it is low-cost, effective, and fairly straightforward to learn. The technique was faster than traditional line drawing, but sub-par excavation conditions and dark, small spaces hindered the creation of useful models. Photogrammetry provides an excellent alternative to traditional documentation addressing the challenges of poor skeletal preservation and holding potential for unraveling complex mortuary traditions.

Los restos óseos humanos contienen una gran cantidad de información sobre las formas de vida pasadas, pero su documentación y recuperación en contextos arqueológicos puede ser un desafío. Este artículo identifica cuatro desafíos que enfrenta el trabajo de campo bioarqueológico: la preservación esquelética deficiente; las tradiciones mortuorias complejas; las condiciones de excavación inferiores al estándar; y los tiempos limitados de excavación. Este proyecto examina como un bioarqueólogo con habilidades básicas de fotografía y equipo de excavación puede enfrentar estos desafíos empleando la fotogrametría. La fotogrametría se llevó a cabo en los sitios Mayas de Say Kah y Chan Chich, ambos ubicados en el norte de Belice, con el fin de documentar restos óseos humanos y sus contextos arqueológicos. Los espacios reducidos de las tumbas y las condiciones con poca luz durante la excavación impidieron la creación de buenas fotografías de los entierros de Say Kah; sin embargo, se pudo crear exitosamente un modelo tridimensional adecuado en un contexto mortuorio en Chan Chich. Se proporcionan los pasos para implementar la fotogrametría en el campo. En general, la fotogrametría es un método prometedor para la investigación bioarqueológica que vale la pena aprender, con planificación anticipada, para documentar restos en espacios pequeños y oscuros.

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