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April 18, 2010 — Undergraduate geophysics research points way for archeologists

by Christine Elias — Sunday, Apr 18, 2010

April 18, 2010 — Undergraduate geophysics research points way for archeologists

Left to right: Dave Jiang, Fernanda Soto (graduated last fall, went along for an independent study), Corina Tudor (worked on a nearby site as her thesis project), Jared Shilson, Charly Bank, Pamela Patraskovic and Jessica Chu

April 18, 2010
By Kim Luke

A team of four students have found evidence at a First Nations site in British Columbia that points to promising areas for further archeological exploration.

Jessica Chu, David Jiang, Pamela Patraskovic and Jared Shilson traveled to Porpoise Bay, near Sechelt in British Columbia, with geology lecturer Charly Bank last summer as part of the Faculty of Arts & Science Independent Experiential (398/399Y) Program.

There, they spent two weeks roughing it and doing remote sensing using geophysical equipment, looking for and finding clues to where archeologists should be digging to learn more about the Coast Salish First Nations who have occupied the area of several centuries .

“Normally archeologists figure out the best place to dig by looking for clues such as depressions in the topography,” says Bank. “However, at this particular site, the ground had been cleared by heavy machinery, which would have removed any evidence of depressions. In these instances, geophysics can help the field of archeology.”

In fact, the idea for bringing the geophysics students to the site came from archeologist Gary Coupland, who has been conducting research there for two years with teams that include graduate and undergraduate students.

Using ground-penetrating radar, magnetometry and resistivity, the geophysics students looked for anamolies — differences in magnetic or electrical properties, for instance — that may be caused by human activity and be a target for archeologists. A pile of rocks, for example, may turn out to be a hearth. The team found several areas that they think may merit exploration and even excavation and are passing their report on to Coupland’s archeological team for consideration. Coupland, in turn, hopes to follow up on the geophysics team’s findings when he goes back to Porpoise Bay this summer with a new team of archeology students.

For students, the benefits of this real-world research experience are numerous. They get to work with state-of-the-art machinery, learn teamwork, and solve real problems in the field. “There really are a limited number of things once can teach in a lab about geophysics,” says Bank. “Also, there is more excitement doing this work because new data comes out of it.”

Shilson, a fourth-year specialist who hopes to have a career in geophysics, believes the hands-on experience will give him a boost in finding a job but also notes another unexpected benefit of participating in the program. “It made me feel more involved with U of T.”

The Independent Experiential Research Program in the Faculty of Arts & Science began in 2000 as a way to provide undergraduate students with a hands-on research experience that takes place off-campus. Each summer, faculty supervisors propose a limited number of projects, most taking place during the summer.