Rising Star Photo Wins Australian Archaeology Award

By Elen Feuerriegel

I submitted this photo to the Australian Archaeological Association photo competition in ‘Category B – Archaeological fieldwork or laboratory work in progress‘. While I was unable to attend the conference myself (I was busy cleaning fossils!), I was notified recently that I had been one of the winning entries.

In this photo K. Lindsay Eaves monitors the Artec scanner (not pictured) on a laptop as a 3D render of the dig site is generated. As the site is located 30m below the surface within a tight section of the cave system, traditional mapping methods were not suitable and an innovative approach to site documentation was required. The Artec scanner uses white light to digitally map and recreate each layer in high resolution as we excavated. It was a two person process: one to hold and move the scanner precisely over the area being excavated, and another to monitor the quality and provide guidance to the person scanning. Each layer took a number of passes with the scanner in different orientations in order to capture a complete picture of the excavation unit.

When the photo was taken, Lindsay was perched precariously in a fissure between the rocks, balancing the laptop on her knees and juggling the tangled mass of cables and cords like a dusty high wire artist, as Becca Peixotto scanned a narrow section of the site off to the right. The site is full of low-hanging jagged protrusions and tight squeezes, so it often took a bit of negotiating and not a little measure of skill and creativity to get the scanner and the attached laptop in the right position for easy and precise scanning.

Caver/scientist Lindsay Eaves finds a perch above the cave floor from which to run the laptop for 3D digital scanning of the site. (Photo by Elen Feuerriegel)

Scanning is a surprisingly involved process! In order for the scanner to work optimally, the scanner itself has to be situated about 700mm or in the “700 range” away from its target. It can’t be too close or too far away otherwise it wouldn’t catch enough detail about the features or textures as we will need it. The low-hanging rocks caused the biggest issues as they often limited how high we could lift the scanner at any given point, especially over the bone-dense area we called the “Puzzle Box.”

When I took the photo, I was crouched in one of the “clear” sections of the site, an area with less material sitting on the surface. Still, there is almost certainly significant fossil material waiting underneath. Finding such a space, and avoiding opening an artery on the razor-sharp rocks while simultaneously picking your way gingerly over what was possibly next year’s work surface was one of the more harrowing parts of working in the advance chamber of Rising Star. It’s nice to now discover it was also one of the most photogenic!

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