BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Tel Burna 2015: iPads, PlanGrid and GoPro

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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.)
 


 
Interested in the latest archaeological technology? Researchers at the UCSD’s Calit2 laboratory recently released the free BAS eBook Cyber-Archaeology in the Holy Land — The Future of the Past, featuring the latest research on GPS, Light Detection and Ranging Laser Scanning, unmanned aerial drones, 3D artifact scans, CAVE visualization environments and much more.
 


 
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.

burna-plangrid

PlanGrid in action with a smashed Late Bronze Age jug in area B1. Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.

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.

burna-top-plan

Area B2 top plan from PlanGrid with locus (in red/pink), baskets (black) and levels (blue) against the GoPro aerial background. Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.

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.

burna-gopro

Area B2 supervisor Ron Lev with the GoPro camera and iPhone app making the “aerial” daily photo for the daily top plans of each square. Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.

Next time, we will look at Tel Burna’s field program for participants.
 


 
chris-mckinnyChris 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.
 


 

More on the 2015 field season at Tel Burna:

Tel Burna: An Introduction to the Biblical Town

Opening New Squares with People from All Over the World

The Specialists

Team Impressions

The Iron II Fortifications in Areas A1 and B2

Area A2—A Judahite Administrative Building?
 


 


2 Responses

  1. Chris McKinny says:

    Thanks for the comment. Good points – here is some clarification. Plan grid is not meant to be our only method of measuring finds. If an artifact is found in situ it will also be measured with traditional measurements or total station coordinates. We also take photos with a better camera and a scale when the context is clean and we plan on using the photo for publications. The plan grid system replaces the rough forms of field registration that include daily top plans, basket lists, locus cards and field photos. All of these items that were previously kept separately are combined into one system. Also the camera on the newer tablets and phones are very high caliber and can be used for more than field photon if necessary.

  2. Dave Webb says:

    Interesting, but I wonder what measure of accuracy is considered sufficient here as scales are warped by lens effects towards the margins on tablet- and phone-based photographs? I see no reference scales along the margins on the ground in the one photo provided in the article.

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2 Responses

  1. Chris McKinny says:

    Thanks for the comment. Good points – here is some clarification. Plan grid is not meant to be our only method of measuring finds. If an artifact is found in situ it will also be measured with traditional measurements or total station coordinates. We also take photos with a better camera and a scale when the context is clean and we plan on using the photo for publications. The plan grid system replaces the rough forms of field registration that include daily top plans, basket lists, locus cards and field photos. All of these items that were previously kept separately are combined into one system. Also the camera on the newer tablets and phones are very high caliber and can be used for more than field photon if necessary.

  2. Dave Webb says:

    Interesting, but I wonder what measure of accuracy is considered sufficient here as scales are warped by lens effects towards the margins on tablet- and phone-based photographs? I see no reference scales along the margins on the ground in the one photo provided in the article.

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