The Tel Burna Archaeological Project is exposing a Canaanite town in the Shephelah region of Israel believed by some scholars to be Biblical Libnah. Below, excavation staff member Chris McKinny discusses the digital technologies used for recording finds at Tel Burna.
For the last several seasons at Tel Burna, we have used a digital field registration system that is an adaptation of the smartphone/tablet-based app PlanGrid. Archaeological field registration encompasses all of the technical aspects relating to registering archaeological artifacts, architecture, stratigraphy, field methodological procedures, etc., for the purpose of post-excavation analysis and publication. Before discussing this interesting program, it may be helpful for readers to have a brief introduction to the archaeological field terms that relate to field registration. We will limit ourselves to the following terms: area, square, locus and basket.
• Area = a defined and specifically designated region on an archaeological site that is treated separately from other areas. Usually areas are named sequentially (e.g., Area A, B, C, etc.) or as an explanation of what is being excavated (e.g., Area S – Section).
• Square = a 5×5 m or 10×10 m excavation area within the defined area.
• Locus = a specific excavated location of archaeological remains within an excavated square or squares. A locus is a discernible feature, layer or function (i.e., balk/baulk removal).
• Basket = artifacts excavated within a given locus (e.g., pottery, bones, inscriptions, etc.)
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Until relatively recently, the above categories were recorded on paper forms and plans. However, the advent of reliable and moderately priced tablets has changed the landscape of archaeological registration. iPads and other tablets or smartphones are both rugged enough for the harsh conditions in the field and have a long enough battery to last the entire day. At Tel Burna, we are now primarily using iPads with PlanGrid for all of our field registrations.
PlanGrid is a construction app available on iOS and Android platforms designed to allow multiple users to manage, annotate and archive large quantities of construction drawings (i.e., blueprints) over the course of a construction project. One of the real benefits of the app is that it allows users to work “offline” in the field, but then automatically syncs all of the forms, markings and pictures in the PlanGrid cloud.
In our experience, the reliability and adaptability of the app has made it a great option for replacing traditional paper forms for archaeological field registration. This year we have added a very nice feature to the program: aerial, selfie-stick GoPro pictures of each square for each day of excavation. Some excavations accomplish an aerial picture through a drone or a balloon at the end of each day of excavation. However, in order to do this, you have to either work without shade (not an option for us) or remove and then put back the shades at the end of each day (also not an option). With the GoPro and Ron Lev’s (supervisor of Area B2) ingenious invention of a tripod attached to a selfie stick, we are able to achieve the same effect while also preserving the comfort of the shade. These pictures allow us to have an accurate plan view of the excavations from each day. Beyond that, when integrated into PlanGrid, we place our loci, baskets and levels directly against the backdrop of the slowly evolving excavation square.
Next time, we will look at Tel Burna’s field program for participants.
Chris McKinny is the supervisor of Area B1 at Tel Burna. Chris is a Ph.D. candidate at Bar Ilan University and an adjunct professor at The Master’s College. To follow his research, visit his academia.edu page.
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