Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tacoma prof supervises archaeological dig online

THE NEWS TRIBUNE (Seattle Post Intelligencer)

TACOMA, Wash. -- In uncovering relics of the past, Doug Edwards is making a little history of his own.

Edwards, a religion professor at the University of Puget Sound for 21 years, has just wrapped up using video technology in Tacoma to conduct an archaeological dig in Israel - the first time anyone has led an excavation online, he says.

From July 9 through Aug. 16, Edwards supervised a team of 18 volunteers from the South Sound and across the nation, including two graduates from UPS and his 18-year-old daughter, Helen, who came home Wednesday.

"He's an amazing and far-reaching presence literally in that he was able to effectively direct an entire project from thousands of miles away," said Chris Mundigler, a colleague from Victoria, British Columbia, who's worked with Edwards since 2002 on projects around the Mediterranean.

Leading the dig from afar was born of necessity: Edwards, 58, is receiving daily treatment for bone cancer and learned in April that he couldn't accompany the team to Israel, where he's directed digs since 1992.


The team worked at Khirbet Cana, eight miles northwest of Nazareth. Cana is the site of a marriage feast where Jesus turned water to wine, according to the New Testament. The team looked for clues from shards of pottery to soil changes to see how first-century villages evolved.

Six days each week, Edwards held morning video conferences with his onsite director, along with specialists in Seattle, British Columbia and Virginia.

"The field supervisor gives me a report on what's happening, and we can share files, pictures on our computer screens," Edwards said. "For instance, if we have aerial photos and I want them to excavate a certain area, I can circle the place we want to talk about, and they can make comments on the screen."

The instant feedback - no mean feat when connecting individuals from scattered time zones - was valuable, he added.


Barry Goldstein, a UPS geology professor who's worked on digs with Edwards since 1998, described his colleague as a visionary and the "glue" of the lengthy excavation process.

Goldstein said the new technology allows interested parties to receive bits of information as onsite teams update an online database, rather than waiting five to 10 years for a comprehensive paper to be published.

This is cool. Doubly cool, with both the online supervision and the remarkable instant access to the raw data for outsiders. I with Professor Edwards a rapid and full recovery.