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January 31, 2006

NASA Public Affairs Office
Stennis Space Center, MS 39529-6000
(228) 688-3341

RELEASE
SSC ARCHAEOLOGY TAKES NASA TECHNOLOGY UNDERGROUND

A marriage of space-age technology and traditional archaeology has unearthed a wealth of objects at NASA's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Miss.

A collection of artifacts, remnants of everyday life in Gainesville, Miss., were found using high-tech remote sensing methods like ground-penetrating radar, magnetometers, and satellite and airborne images. The objects were uncovered during archeological excavations conducted over the past 11 years at the site of the 19th century Hancock County seat on the Pearl River, now part of the space center.

The artifacts are now highlighted in a new exhibit at Stennis Space Center's visitor center, StenniSphere.

"We chose the Gainesville site to pioneer and pilot new remote sensing methods and equipment," said archaeologist Dr. Marco Giardino of NASA's New Business Development Office at the space center. "Features identified by one set of instruments were confirmed by each of the others. So our verification and validation process yielded some great archeological finds."

Those finds include a clay pipe stem, a brass button, a lock from the original Hancock County courthouse, pottery fragments, trade beads, 6,000-year-old arrowheads and hundreds of other items. Some yield more information than others. The tiny pipe stem, for example, was important because it led to research confirming the presence of British settlers much earlier than anyone thought.

Equally important are new research methods that have resulted from the excavations. By layering digital versions of old documents over modern digital images, new types of geospatial imaging products were created.

"We basically piloted the process of matching historical documents – surveys, deeds and grants – to modern satellite and aerial imagery," Giardino said. "By matching (or co-registering) images, you have a much better chance of digging in the right place, of going to a specific location and better interpreting what one finds there."

The exhibit holds only part of the Gainesville artifacts of which Stennis Space Center's Environmental Office is the curator. Giardino hopes the exhibit will convey several messages to StenniSphere visitors: that land ownership, in the historic perspective, is only temporary; that any piece of ground may have held a lively community at one time, and evidence of it may be right under our feet; that it's important to conserve and properly record the past through proper methods; that NASA technology can offer major benefits to archaeology and historical research.

While conducting archaeological activities at a spaceflight facility may seem odd, Giardino points to the importance of digging into the rich history of Stennis Space Center.

"It's appropriate for NASA to celebrate the heritage of Hancock County and the people who gave up their homes for this center to come to life," he said. "It's also important for instruction and education. By excavating and curating these items properly, we contribute to the understanding of this place and its roots."

Related Multimedia:
+ http://www.nasa.gov/centers/stennis/news/newsreleases/2006/STS-06-023-cptn.html

 
 

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