Season 1, Episode 4

Season 1, Episode 4
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IN THIS EPISODE (in order of appearance):


[rocket rumbling]

[upbeat electronic music]

(Jennifer): Hello, there. I'm Jennifer Pulley, and welcome to another edition of NASA 360.

Today we've got so many things lined up for you. We're going to talk about technology. We're going to talk about exploration. And we're going to talk about dinosaurs and how they're all related.

But first, let's talk about where I'm standing. Get this: I'm standing inside a fort. That's right, and it's not just any fort. This is Jamestown fort. It's the site of the first permanent English colony in what was then called the new world. Today, of course, we know it as America.

Now think about this: from this starting point, people spread out all across the country and eventually populated the entire United States. So I guess we have to say that this landing's spot's a pretty big deal in American history.

Over time, though, the original fort that the English settlers built fell into disrepair. And believe it or not, for many years, it was lost to history. That all changed in 1996 when archaeologist Dr. Bill Kelso rediscovered the original fort.

It began a whole new era of understanding what life was like for those first Jamestown settlers. For the first time, they had proof. Using old writings, drawings, and now a handy trowel for digging, Dr. Kelso and his team discovered where the old fort was. And they began excavating the artifacts.

To date, he and his team have found over 1 million artifacts from the original fort. And they expect to find many more in the next few years. In a little while, we'll catch up with Dr. Kelso and dig a little deeper into the history of Jamestown.

But first, do you know the difference between an archaeologist and a paleontologist? Well, let's see. They both dig in the ground looking for things in the past, right? Well, it's the type of things they're looking for that make them different.

You see, archaeology is the science of understanding human cultures, while paleontology is the study of prehistoric life-forms. So basically, then, archaeologists spends their time trying to understand human history, while paleontologists generally look for fossils from before human history, like dinosaur bones. Got it?

Luckily for archaeologists and paleontologists, tons of help is now coming from NASA. How? Well, one of the ways is through the use of remote sensing techniques.

Remote sensing? Well, in the broadest sense, it's the use of a device to collect information without actually physically touching the object.

Now, a great example of a remote sensing device we use every single day? Our eyes. Think about it. You can detect objects around you without physically touching them. You simply use your detectors, or your eyes, to see the object, gather information about it. You're using remote sensing.

There are many forms of NASA-sponsored remote sensing devices that are being used to help in archaeology and paleontology.

Like, for example, there's something called ground-penetrating radar. This unique type of radar system can actually see objects in the ground without anyone having to dig them up. By using this in combination with aerial photography and historical documents, NASA can help give researchers a much better indication of where to dig, what to preserve, and what areas to avoid.

Satellites are another type of remote sensing tool being used by NASA researchers to help archaeologists and paleontologists. In fact, NASA archaeologist Dr. Tom Sever has been using satellite data to help us understand why the Mayan civilization in Guatemala collapsed and how current populations may be able to prevent future disaster. Let me try to break it down for you.

Between the third and ninth century, the Mayan civilization in Central America flourished. But after about the ninth century, they collapsed, leaving archaeologists few clues as to why this once-mighty civilization disappeared.

This is where NASA comes in. Our remote sensing satellites can detect even small changes within the electromagnetic spectrum. So sand, cultivated soil, vegetation, and rocks, each have distinctive spectral signatures which are easily distinguished from each other. So archaeologists can use info from the remote sensing satellites to quickly target specific areas of interest then send teams to that area to validate the findings.

Dr. Sever and his team have already found several previously undiscovered sites and feel confident that they know where others are, thanks to NASA's remote sensing satellites. That is how NASA is helping researchers find old ruins. But remote sensing satellites are also helping us understand why the Mayan civilization may have disappeared.

Today, the Peten rain forest in Guatemala is covered with trees and is not heavily populated. But it was not like this during the peak of the Mayan civilization. In fact, during that time, this region had a population of about 2,000 people per square mile, which is about the same as current-day Los Angeles.

With a population that large, the Mayans had to farm huge areas of land. To do this, they employed a technique called slash and burn, which eventually destroyed virtually every tree for hundreds of miles. Computer models show that as the trees disappeared, so did the rain, which caused temperatures to increase by five to six degrees. All of these shifts may have caused malnutrition and disease, which, in turn, contributed to its collapse.

This information is especially important for us today because slash-and-burn techniques are once again being used in the areas that were once Mayan strongholds. Understanding what happened to the Mayans may dissuade current generations of farmers from following the same destructive path.

So as you can see, NASA technology is being used for a lot more than just to help us in space. It's being used to help save lives back here on Earth too.

Hey, in a little bit, we'll swing back out here to Jamestown to talk with Dr. Kelso. But first, let's head to North Dakota. Johnny Alonso's there to see what a mummified dinosaur and NASA have in common.

Hang on tight. You're watching NASA 360.

(Johnny): Hey, how's it going? Let me ask you something. Have you ever seen a real dinosaur?

And I'm not talking about one of those dinosaurs you might see in the movies or even the skeletons in the museums. I'm talking about a real dinosaur with skin, muscle, and bones. Yeah, it might be hard nowadays, considering the fact that dinosaurs lived, what, hundreds of millions of years ago.

But what if I told you that researchers found a dinosaur just like that? Would you believe it?

Well, if you said no, you'd better start believing, because a few years ago, researchers found an actual mummified dinosaur that was still intact, from the skin to cartilage to muscle. A mummified Hadrosaur named Dakota is so unique in its discovery that it's changing what researchers thought they knew about dinosaurs.

I rolled out to Bismarck, North Dakota, to speak with my buddy Dr. John Hoganson about this amazing discovery and to find out how NASA is helping unearth more clues.

Oh, wow, are you kidding me? Yeah, this is... Oh, this is so cool!

(Dr. John Hoganson): This is the tail section of the duckbilled dinosaur called Dakota. And it's being prepared here at the North Dakota Geological Survey Preparation Laboratory here at the Heritage Center here in Bismarck.

(Johnny): This is something else. Wow! So, doc, how was this dinosaur found?

(Dr. John Hoganson): Well, this fossil was found in 1999 by Tyler Lyson down in Marmarth, North Dakota, which is in the southwest corner of the state.

He was only a sophomore in high school at the time but was out exploring for fossils, actually, on his uncle's property down in the badlands.

Now, this is a Hadrosaur called Edmontosaurus. That's the scientific name for this particular species of dinosaur. Hadrosaurs were duckbilled dinosaurs. They're a group of dinosaurs that were referred to as duckbilled dinosaurs because their snouts were compressed very similar to a modern duck.

(Johnny): So what is so unique about this fossil?

(Dr. John Hoganson): Well, you know, generally, paleontologists, when we're out exploring for fossils, will only find individual bones or fragments of jaws or things like that.

This particular dinosaur, called Dakota, is not only a complete skeleton but it's very unique, because the skin is actually preserved on this animal. So the entire skeleton appears to be wrapped in the skin that it was enclosed in.

This is called a mummified dinosaur, but it's not a mummy in the sense of what we generally think about, like an Egyptian mummy that has been embalmed for preservation. The skin on this animal is actually preserved because it's been replaced by a mineral called siderite, which is an iron carbonate kind of mineral which is very hard and has preserved the skin.

(Johnny): All right, so how did NASA get involved with this dinosaur discovery?

Well, researchers needed a way to scan through all the layers of rock to see all the dinosaur. And since this thing weighs about ten tons, they needed a really, really big scanner.

(Dr. John Hoganson): Well, you know, when we usually find these fossils in the field, we generally just find the bones, the skeletons.

And it was determined early on during the excavation process that this particular dinosaur was covered in skin. So it was decided to take these skeleton blocks out still entombed in the rock.

So big blocks of rocks were removed. And at that point, it was decided that the best technology to use to determine the position of the bones in the rock and the completeness of the skeleton was to use C.A.T. scan technologies.

And that's where NASA was asked if they could help with this. And it's been a very good approach, because with this tail block that we're working on right now, we, through the C.A.T. scan technology, are able to know where the bones are before we actually start digging through the rock matrix.

(Johnny): Luckily for these guys, NASA operates the largest CT scanner in the world. Located at a Boeing facility in Canoga Park, California, this scanner's first priority is to inspect large space shuttle parts.

Well, the task for Dakota was not all that different. So they loaded Dakota on a truck and shipped it off to California. When it arrived, the scanner was able to penetrate the dense iron carbonate that surrounded the dinosaur's tail section. And right away, researchers saw bones, tissue, and cartilage.

(Dr. John Hoganson): Well, since I've been a paleontologist, which has been a few years, there's been a lot of technological changes and advancements that have really helped the science.

In addition to the C.A.T. scan technology that we've been talking about here, there's a lot of remote sensing types of technologies that are available to us now.

Global position systems, mapping, lidar, kinds of laser mapping, various other kinds of technologies that assist us in the field actually locating and positioning the fossil finds, because it's very important to us to know where in the rock column the fossil is found and also, of course, the geographic position of the fossil.

We also use, you know, C.A.T. scans for determining the bones structures of skulls and also the size of the brain cases and skulls, fossil skulls, that have been found.

So technology is used extensively now in paleontology.

We're preparing this for exhibit. The tail and one of the arms will be prepared and put on exhibit here at the North Dakota Heritage Center, which is open to the public. So we plan to have it here for quite some time if people are interested in coming and seeing it.

(Johnny): Good. Absolutely. Well, doctor, thank you so much for having us here.

(Dr. John Hoganson): Sure, it's really good to have you here.

(Johnny): Most definitely. Thank you.

Hey, in a little bit, I'm going to tell you how NASA's bringing history to life on the Lewis and Clark trail. So don't go anywhere. It's coming right up. You're watching NASA 360.

(Jennifer): Okay, so the first English settlers landed here in Jamestown in 1607. But the first years, oh, they were rough. In fact, for many years, there was question as to whether the small fort would actually survive.

There was starvation and a lot of sickness. But thanks to some local indians and some resupply from England, this small, little fort held on, and it began to flourish.

In fact, from 1612 to 1698, Jamestown was the capital of the whole country. That changed when a fire swept through the state house and it forced the capital to be moved to Williamsburg. Just a few years later, Jamestown was gone, both physically and in memory.

Over the centuries, people believed that the old fort and all of its artifacts had actually washed away into the James River. But that all changed in 1994, when the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, or, for short, the APVA, commissioned an archaeological dig in the area where the original fort was thought to be.

Why? Well, APVA lead archaeologist Dr. Bill Kelso believed the original fort had not been washed away at all. He had a hunch that he knew where to find the fort. And this old church had something to do with it.

(Dr. Bill Kelso): Reason that I started digging where I did was that, there's a church tower here that's the only original above-ground part of Jamestown, 17th century.

And the church was originally in the midst of the fort. One of the records said this, you know? I said, "Well, it ought to be around here somewhere." So starting near the church was the key.

And it was an area that had never really been looked at before, ironically enough. It's high ground. It really made sense, now that we know where the fort is.

(Jennifer): Can you walk me through kind of the excavation process, the recording -- we were talking a little bit about the technology -- and then where do the artifacts go from there?

(Dr. Bill Kelso): Well, artifacts are removed from the soil. Once we understand the context, we call it, where they're found, they're taken to a lab, and they're washed. And then some of these -- like these iron objects would have to be conserved.

Some things, probably 1% or 2% of what we have here, will go on exhibit. We have, you know, a museum here. And there are other traveling exhibits and other things that we do just to tell the Jamestown story.

[excavation footage]

    (Excavator): Would you believe that?

    (Excavator): How are we going to do this?

    (Man): What is that?

    (Woman): Oh, my god!

    (Excavator): It's all metal down here. That's why it's rusty.

    (Man): That's Lord Deleware's.

[end excavation footage]

(Jennifer): Dr. Kelso, how long have you been an archaeologist?

(Dr. Bill Kelso): Well, I started probably 1607, something like that.

(Jennifer): [laughing] Why, you look great!

(Dr. Bill Kelso): Thank you very much.

(Jennifer): Well, you're over 400 years old!

(Dr. Bill Kelso): Gosh. It's been a while. 45 years, I guess, I would say.

(Jennifer): All right, so in that time, in those 45 years, tell me, what have you seen? What changes have you seen -- technology -- technological advances in archaeology?

(Dr. Bill Kelso): Well, the major technological advances -- you would think that we would've invented X-ray vision. You know, we would save a lot of digging. But that hasn't happened.

There are certain machines that can give you some reading belowground without digging, remote sensing.

But what I think the breakthrough has been has been in recording, the record of archaeology, 'cause archaeology, I think, in the past, is something that's viewed as destructive.

But now we have the technology, through a GIS Program, that we can record almost in three dimensions. And we're close. And if you can record in three dimensions, then you can actually replicate the site again, digitally, and, you know, relook at it.

That still doesn't replace just, you know, blood, sweat, and tears. I mean, it's just down. It's digging. It's scooping. It's using -- our main instrument here is just this small shovel.

And, you know, it takes a long time to dig out a hole like this with something like this. But we have to do that so that we don't disturb artifacts.

(Jennifer): So tell me about some of the amazing things you've found.

(Dr. Bill Kelso): Well, we've found over a million artifacts in this project. But there are certain things that really do stand out.

(Jennifer): One of those things that stands out is a lead luggage tag with its destination stamped on it, "Yamestowne."

This tag made the long journey from England to the new world on a wooden ship then was discarded into the bottom of a well. After its rediscovery 400 years later, it would again be making a long trip, this time into space.

To help celebrate the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, this lowly luggage tag was placed aboard the space shuttle Atlantis, where it traveled nearly 6 million miles around the Earth.

After the space flight was over, the tag was returned to Jamestown, where it went back on display in the Jamestown Archaearium with other artifacts from the old fort.

(Dr. Bill Kelso): I think it really highlights the... sort of age-old exploration process, that, in 1607, you had to get the vehicles. You had to raise the money. You had to get the political things in order, the charter, to come to Virginia, and dress appropriately with armor and closed helmets, because it was an alien environment, you had to put some kind of a…

It's almost like a -- it is almost like a space station. You know, here in -- or an outpost -- to begin to explore an unknown environment in Virginia, and that's –

(Jennifer): and NASA's continuing to do that.

(Dr. Bill Kelso): Right, and here's the colonization of the moon. And what are the problems? Well, you got to get there. You got to have the right vehicles. What do you take with you? You know, how do you survive in this alien environment?

You put in artificial surface around you, you know, and you dress appropriately. So it is -- it's really an age-old thing. This whole psychological need to explore, spiritual need to explore, I think, is still today just as it was at the time of Jamestown.

(Jennifer): All right, so let's talk a little bit about this correlation between the early explorers, yourself, you're an explorer, and then the future explorers.

(Dr. Bill Kelso): Well, I'm kind of an explorer of explorers, the recent explorers. I mean, they -- we're trying to figure out what it was like to explore and to discover. And our project's called "Jamestown Rediscovery" you know, we're not discovering Jamestown. We're rediscovering it.

And a good example is this space here that -- this was used as a laboratory to study the minerals and the iron ore of this new land to see if it could be profitable to come here.

So, yeah, this is very similar to what I've read about explorations, especially on mars. They send out vehicles, and they do drilling, and they look at the material. And that's what was going on here.

And so this space was where -- I'm sure people that you've heard of before -- Captain John Smith walked around in here. You know, maybe Pocahontas checking out the blacksmith shop.

(Jennifer): That is so cool. That's… I mean, that's -- what an amazing job you have.

(Dr. Bill Kelso): Well, that's what… that's the payoff, is to feel… to walk the places, to be in the places where these historical events happened. So then the events take on much more meaning than if you just read them in a text book.

(Jennifer): Earlier, Dr. Kelso mentioned the similarities between the 1607 Jamestown explorers and NASA's future space explorers.

What about all the explorers in between? Guys like Daniel Boone, Neil Armstrong come to mind, as well as many countless others who have helped broaden our knowledge through exploration.

Perhaps two of the most famous names in American exploration history are Lewis and Clark. You ever heard of them? They blazed a trail through the American west, mapping out their path as they went.

So what do you think? Did NASA have anything to do with the Lewis and Clark expedition?

Well, not the original trip, but NASA is helping out now. Johnny Alonso will tell you all about it.

(Johnny): All right, so we've seen a lot today how NASA's helping archaeologists and paleontologists through remote sensing. These remote sensing devices have helped us unearth some really cool findings in places like Cambodia, Central America, and the American southwest. And they've also helped along one of the most famous trails in American history, the Lewis and Clark Trail.

To find out how NASA helped map this 200-year-old trail, I rolled up to Fort Mandan in North Dakota, where Lewis and Clark spent their first winter.

Before we get into NASA's involvement, let's go back a few hundred years to the beginning of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Back in 1804, when the expedition began, we knew almost nothing about what was to the west of St. Louis. So president Thomas Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to lead an expedition west to find the first all-water route to the Pacific Ocean.

This was an epic journey, taking several years and 3,700 miles (5,955 km) to complete. During this trip, they collected samples of plants and animals, met many of the different Indian tribes of the west and brought back detailed data about the route that they had taken.

But even though they brought back some pretty good maps and data, they still weren't 100 percent accurate. That's because most of these journals weren't written right away, or they were written after a hard day's travel. And many of the entries contain geographical inaccuracies.

So… this is where NASA comes in. Researchers from NASA's Stennis Space Center took the maps of Lewis and Clark and combined them with high-resolution images taken from satellites and aircraft.

They created maps with a 360-degree view of an area where the explorers traveled. From that view, archaeologists could follow the trails as if they were flying over the actual landscape in real time and in any direction or angle they chose.

Researchers pored over these maps looking for telltale signs of human disturbances unique to the Lewis and Clark expedition. With this technique, archaeologists were able to narrow down some of the possible sites from many miles to a few acres.

This information is helping to find Lewis and Clark artifacts that provide a clearer understanding of the expedition and what the lives of those early explorers had been like.

And don't forget, NASA has a new generation of explorers too that will soon be going back to the moon and on to Mars. So in the future when we talk about great explorers, there's no doubt that NASA's astronauts will be on the list.

It's amazing, isn't it? Just when you thought you knew everything about NASA, we throw something else at you.

So as you can see, NASA's not only trying to help shape our future. It's also making the past clearer.

That's it for this episode. For Jennifer Pulley, I'm Johnny Alonso. I'll catch you next time on NASA 360.


(Johnny): …dinosaur. I'd say it was still in -- [laughing].

(Johnny): These remote sensing devices will help us on -- two.

(Jennifer): Why? Well, APVA lead archaeologist Dr. Bill Kelso believed -- he thought – [smiles].

(Johnny): …to find out how NASA helped -- two.

(Johnny): That's right, a mummified Hadrosaur named Dakota [stops, snaps fingers]

(Jennifer): Let's head out to North Dakota. Johnny Alonso is learning how NASA technology was used to unearth some really cool -- really unique… eh.

(Jennifer): Guys like Daniel Boone and Neil Armstrong may come to mind, as well as many countless oth…

(Jennifer): …it's doctor – bill-la-la-la-la…

(Johnny): I rolled out to Fort Mandan, North Dakota, for... Damn! That was it. That was it. I'll say it right this time.


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