Thursday, September 02, 2004

Halle-freakin'-luyah! Piecing the Past: An algorithm quickly fits together potsherds

A 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle of the Rocky Mountains not challenging enough? Imagine assembling it without knowing how it looked or if all the pieces were there. And what if the pieces actually made up several separate puzzles? Now pretend the pieces are three-dimensional and 4,000 years old.

That's what archaeologists face when they find the scattered remnants of cups, bowls and other containers. Putting the fragments together can provide vital clues about the culture of interest, but the process can take months.

Partial article, subscription required for the rest. More here on one of the researchers' web site, including a paper on the algorithm. The site itself contains several papers. We are in the process of digesting the whole thing. Depending on the limitations in both samples and computing time (dependent on the sample of course) this could either revolutionize ceramic studies or become a very useful, if somewhat limited, tool for analysis in some contexts. Either way, it will be interesting to see how it works out with a range of samples (e.g., a small group of sherds thought to be from the same vessel vs. a larger group from an unknown number of vessels). Still, this is the coolest thing we've seen in a long time.

You know, we used to say we'd kill for something like this. Note to Mssrs. Willis and Cooper: We won't. We'll worship you for it.


Northern European men living during the early Middle Ages were nearly as tall as their modern-day American descendants, a finding that defies conventional wisdom about progress in living standards during the last millennium.

"Men living during the early Middle Ages (the ninth to 11th centuries) were several centimeters taller than men who lived hundreds of years later, on the eve of the Industrial Revolution," said Richard Steckel, a professor of economics at Ohio State University and the author of a new study that looks at changes in average heights during the last millennium.

That's good to know Archaeologist satisfied Indian burial site preserved

The past affects the future — and sometimes the dead don't stay buried.

Childersburg businessman Ray Reeves found that out when he started clearing ground to expand facilities at Reeson Welding and Fabricating on the north side of town.

University of Alabama archaeologist Jim Knight happened to pass by with a student on a tour of significant Creek Indian sites. Knight was upset that the company was sitting on a known Indian site and appeared to be encroaching on additional portions of the site.