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Data from drone-based lidar allows researchers to make such detailed images of the land surface. In this image, rooms of an ancient pueblo are visible, as well as a depression that researchers believe may have marked the location of a kiva inside the pueblo. Credits: Jeff Ferguson and Francisco “Paco” Gomez

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Data from drone-based lidar allows researchers to make such detailed images of the land surface. In this image, rooms of an ancient pueblo are visible, as well as a depression that researchers believe may have marked the location of a kiva inside the pueblo. Credits: Jeff Ferguson and Francisco “Paco” Gomez

Jeff Ferguson, Rob Walker and Francisco “Paco” Gomez at the University of Missouri are part of an interdisciplinary research team using drones equipped with light detection and ranging, or lidar, to study ancient Native American villages called pueblos in the western Lion Mountain region Let’s use. new Mexico. The team’s goal is to better understand the connection between migration and social interaction patterns and pueblo occupations.

“Between “A large pueblo has been discovered in this area, likely built and occupied by immigrants from the large-scale abandonment of the Four Corners region, including Mesa Verde, in the late 13th century,” said Ferguson, an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology. Was.”

“Our research focuses on documenting regional settlement patterns and understanding how migrants from the north interacted with existing local populations. Using this technique, we aim to efficiently identify sites that have not been previously documented had not been.”

Lidar is a technology that uses a laser pulse to “map” the ground surface. While drone-based lidar can provide more detailed images Compared to aircraft-based lidar, the team is exploring whether drones can be efficiently used to conduct the large-scale land surveys needed to discover these sites—efforts that sometimes cover hundreds of square miles. can cover. After the sites are identified by air, they must be verified by the researchers. on the ground through a process called “ground-truthing”.

“It is not always clear whether these features are of an architectural nature,” Ferguson said. “It can be difficult to distinguish between a natural rock fragment or a cultural feature, so we must look at factors such as alignment, position, size, rock type and whether other cultural artifacts are present.”

Sensitive to the cultural significance of these sites, the researchers are partnering with a cultural resource advisory team from the Pueblo of Zuni, one of several Native American groups that claim these ancestral sites as part of their cultural heritage. We do. Ferguson described one such encounter last year when researchers discovered a small group of vertical stones placed in the ground in the shape of a box. The Zuni Cultural Resource Advisory Team (ZCRAT) determined that this was a pilgrimage site and identified several others at additional sites. The researchers are planning additional fieldwork in partnership with ZCRAT in the fall of 2023.


Technology reveals new picture of ancient Native American culture. Credit: Pat McQueen/University of Missouri

ask more in depth questions

The use of drones to search for these sites has already opened the door for researchers to ask more in-depth questions about migration patterns.

“We can look at a migrant community and try to understand how that community integrated with local groups,” Ferguson said. “We’re using this information to ask the question ‘How are all these people interacting?’ or ‘What is the interaction between this potential migrant community and these local populations?'”

obsidian sourcing

Another way for researchers to better understand how ancient Native Americans in the Lion Mountain region interacted within a broader social and economic network is to analyze the use of obsidian, a stone used for cutting and grinding. Used to make sharp tools for hunting.

“The chemical composition of the obsidian artifacts can be compared to known natural outcrops and can help determine the geological source of the artifacts,” said Ferguson, who teaches college students how to duplicate stone tools. He also teaches “The use of obsidian sourcing may have been a good indicator of social and economic interaction in the past.”


Using data from a drone-based lidar, this image shows the pueblo’s “C-shaped” room block, as well as the depression that researchers believe marks the location of the kiva. marks. Credit: Jeff Ferguson and Francisco “Paco” Gomez / University of Missouri

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Using data from a drone-based lidar, this image shows the pueblo’s “C-shaped” room block, as well as the depression that researchers believe marks the location of the kiva. marks. Credit: Jeff Ferguson and Francisco “Paco” Gomez / University of Missouri

In a recently published study Field Archeology JournalFerguson and colleagues detail the use of a portable, handheld instrument called energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (ED-XRF), which allows them to analyze obsidian fragments while in the field, allowing for analysis The need to collect these items is eliminated. the laboratory.

“As we’re on the ground truth, we identify all the obsidian in an area, then we pick each one up and run them into the instrument,” Ferguson said. “Using this method, we can collect thousands of data points without really collecting any artifacts.”

incorporating artificial intelligence

Researchers such as Ferguson and Walker, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology, are working to find a way to incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning into the process.


Researchers design a drone to conduct large-scale land surveys from the air. credit: Jeff Ferguson

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Researchers design a drone to conduct large-scale land surveys from the air. credit: Jeff Ferguson

“The ultimate goal is to figure out how we can train machines to find these features even better and more efficiently than humans looking at the data,” Ferguson said. “Once we know which areas have features or sites, we can train the model to say, ‘This site is over here, now go and see what you can find through ground-truthing. Can get.'”

In addition to using the above applications to trace large-scale trade, the researchers are developing plans to incorporate structural analysis of pottery shards to better understand more local interactions between individual communities in the region. The research will involve analysis at the MU Archaeometry Laboratory at the MU Research Reactor (MURR).

more information:
Jonathan M. Schafer et al, In-field obsidian XRF analysis of sites in the Lion Mountain area and Gallinas Mountains of west-central New Mexico, Field Archeology Journal (2023). DOI: 10.1080/00934690.2023.2221520


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