Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Teaching Archaeogeophysical Survey and Mapping Any Time of the Year: An Interdisciplinary Course

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Teaching Archaeogeophysical Survey and Mapping Any Time of the Year: An Interdisciplinary Course

Article excerpt


One of the fastest-growing areas of archaeological fieldwork is the use of subsurface geophysical survey techniques to map ancient remains without excavation. Growing interest in this technology, coupled with the availability of commercial data collectors tailored to archaeological needs, presents a challenge to educators. Specifically, this challenge is to create an integrated, interdisciplinary, active learning curriculum, providing students with: (1) a competent theoretical understanding of basic geophysical processes underlying these survey techniques; (2) an appreciation of the implications these technologies have for research design and methodology and (3) a working knowledge of appropriate mapping and imaging theory and technology.

We designed and implemented a course focusing on these outcomes that was taught at the University of Akron for the first time in Spring 2002. This course was offered to advanced undergraduate and graduate students through a cooperative effort between the Geology, Archaeology and Geography programs. Positive outcomes were measured in terms of overall student responses to course content, a dynamic teaching environment for faculty, successful field studies and the placement of students in post-course research projects. At the same time, course logistics, managing student group dynamics and the difficulty in selecting "real" but appropriate test sites warrant further discussion and modification of the course syllabus for future offerings.


The fastest-growing area of archaeological research today is the application of remote sensing technology. One type of remote sensing used in this context is geophysical surveying. These methods are often employed by archaeologists to investigate discrete archaeological sites within a localized landscape, usually in conjunction with more traditional surface collection and excavation. Compared to excavation, archaeogeophysical methods are faster and cheaper alternatives, hence their widespread appeal to archaeologists.

As these technologies have come more into the mainstream of archaeological fieldwork, the necessity of training students in their use has presented a considerable pedagogical challenge. Perhaps the greatest problem is that mastery of these technologies requires a skill set that no single American university program or academic discipline has traditionally encompassed. Specifically, an understanding of archaeological context is important for project design, while a background in geophysics is essential for instrumentation choice, survey parameter definition, and data assessment. In addition, mathematical and geographical skills are essential in order to map, interpret the data, and produce a meaningful final product. While it is administratively convenient to teach each element of this process in separate departments (i.e., geophysical background could be taught in a geology department, the archaeological design and data collection in an anthropology or archaeology department, and mapping theory and practice in a geography department), it is our belief that a single interdisciplinary approach is both better pedagogy and better science.

Our project's aims were to put this belief into practice at the University of Akron by developing a multidisciplinary course that would integrate aspects of all three disciplines in order to provide students with a complete skill set to employ subsurface archaeogeophysical survey technologies in an archaeological setting. In designing the course, we chose an active and cooperative learning approach so that students would have both hands-on experience and real-world skills necessary for either continued academic subsurface geophysical or archaeological research or contract-based cultural resource management (hereafter "CRM") archaeology. The University of Akron supported our development of this course by providing each of the instructors with full course credit for teaching a single section of the course. …

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