Archaeology: Searching for ancient cultures with magnetometers Ohio: many undiscovered indigenous structures “Nobody has cared for our mounds” The limits of technology Ingenuity and cultural expression Read article in MIT Technology Review 4/2023
Jarrod Burks opens the tailgate of his van and points to a series of strange devices: white PVC pipes connected to an extendable fence-like grid with large, sturdy wheels. A tablet computer, many meters of cable and a GPS antenna in a protective cover lie on soft blankets. Put together, Burks explained, they result in a device for measuring tiny fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetic field. This “magnetometer” is so sensitive that even a cell phone in Burks’ jeans would destroy a whole day’s measurement data. And it measures so sensitively that it can detect camp sites whose fires died out more than a thousand years ago.
Burks, 50—trimmed gray beard, rectangular glasses—starts unloading the pieces and assembling them on the dewy grass. The logo of Ohio Valley Archeology Inc., which deals with the management of cultural resources, is emblazoned on his van. He has been working full-time for this company since 2004, shortly after his doctorate in archeology; today he is Director of Archaeological Geophysics there. He surveys sites throughout the Midwest and abroad, searching for the remains of American soldiers on behalf of the US Congress.
He is also President of the Heartland Earthworks Conservancy, dedicated to the “preservation of ancient earthworks in southern Ohio.” Using one of the most advanced geophysical instruments available, Burks is helping to uncover and preserve tens of thousands of ancient earthworks – forgotten monuments of creative cultures that have profoundly reshaped the North American landscape. The buildings form geometric structures of walls, hills, ditches or ramparts and some are almost 3000 years old. Some are so huge that ironically they are difficult to spot, resembling natural landforms rather than architectural works. Others are so small that at first glance they look like unkempt grassy hills. Many structures appear to indicate significant constellations or lunar cycles – suggesting a highly developed astronomical knowledge handed down over several generations.
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