Washington, September 21 : Scientists at the Idaho State University (ISU) in the US are creating an online, three-dimensional archeological collection of Arctic animal bones, which will be an important tool for researchers worldwide.
The researchers developing this 3-D collection are Herbert Maschner, ISU anthropology research professor, Corey Schou, professor and director of the ISU Informatics Research Institute, and, Matthew Betts, curator of Atlantic Provinces Archaeology at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
The trio is working for a project titled "The Virtual Zooarchaeology of the Arctic Project (VZAP)," that proposes to develop the world's first online, interactive, three-dimensional virtual vertebrate reference collection, which will have applications far outside the realm of Arctic research.
"It is a great tool for scientists," Maschner said. "Instead of having to send a bone to a laboratory at some distant university for identification, researchers will be able to sit at their desk or anywhere they have access to a computer and analyze between 3,000 and 4,000 different bones from about 50 different mammals and a variety of birds from the Arctic," he added.
Demonstrating a partially completed portion of the project, Maschner displayed how an image of a bone could be called up from the online database and examined.
Users can measure the bone's actual size on the computer screen, and they can rotate the image and view it from as many angles as they like, almost, as if, they were holding the specimen in their hands.
"Anybody who has done excavation in an Arctic archeological site who digs up a bone and needs to identify it will be able to use this program and get a positive ID on what they're looking at," Maschner said.
"This, in effect, helps democratize science, taking the identification of the these specimens out of the hands of a few specialists. Any student or researcher anywhere will be able to do the same analysis for little or no cost," he explained.
Well-preserved animal bones from archaeological sites are important because they can provide a record of human behaviors, climatic conditions and ecological changes.
The primary objective of this project is to develop an online resource for the identification of vertebrate material found in polar archaeological sites.
These sites often have excellent organic preservation and produce large amounts of diverse remains from fish, terrestrial mammals, marine mammals, and resident and migratory birds.
According to Maschner, these remains provide a crucial record of the past - of ancient human behaviors, of earlier climates, and of former ecosystems.