Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Technology sends DU archaeologists around the globe

In 2005 alone, Larry Conyers searched for military and ancient graves in Hawaii, mapped tortoise burrows in central Florida, investigated a former settlement in New York’s Central Park, analyzed the La Brea tar pits and researched 5,000-year-old pit-house villages on the Oregon coast. Plus, he worked on sites in Scotland, Israel, Tunisia and Peru.

Conyers, an associate professor of anthropology, has been specializing in the use of ground-penetrating radar (GPR) at archaeological sites for more than15 years. GPR emits radar waves into the ground and records data about how the waves are reflected back. By analyzing the data with computer programs, Conyers can determine the shape and characteristics of buried structures without doing any digging.

“That’s the wonderful thing about doing this kind of high-tech research,” Conyers says. “You’re in demand. You get called to all kinds of interesting places.”

Jeffrey Quilter, deputy director for curatorial affairs at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum, has worked with Conyers on projects in Costa Rica and Peru.

“DU is the only institution of higher learning that has GPR as such an essential and important a part of its program,” Quilter says. “When most archaeologists think of GPR, they think of Larry Conyers and DU.”

One of Conyers’ students, Jennie Sturm, spent two months on a site in northern Peru where Spanish colonists forced indigenous inhabitants to settle in 1559. While working toward her master’s degree (which she received in June 2006), Sturm used GPR and digital mapping to study how the natives structured their private and public spaces and saw “the subtle ways [native inhabitants] may have resisted the Spanish,” she says. Sturm believes her research will reveal a new perspective on Peruvian history.

“Until now, archaeologists just haven’t had the indigenous point of view of the Spanish colonization,” she says.

While other archaeologists might spend their careers focusing on a single geographic region, GPR specialists can bring their technical or methodological specialty to a lot of different sites.

“My students have no idea how lucky they are,” Conyers says. “They get to work in amazing places.”

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