Where in the hell am I?

July 19, 2007

More sound archaeology

Filed under: archaeology, archeology, NPR, recordings, sound, technology — John @ 3:10 am

It’s been slow around here archaeology-wise, although I did get to see a bunch of maps that trace the Old San Antonio road and the Camino Real and some other old Spanish roads across Texas.
However, there was another really interesting story on NPR the other day about new technology to recover old recordings. I posted a while back about a record company specializing in “lost” recordings, and this new story kind of builds on that. Basically, a physicist was listening to NPR a couple of years ago when they did another story about old acetate and cylinder recordings and how they were so rare and fragile that playing them would actually destroy them. So this scientist devised a way to use a camera and a computer to basically photograph the grooves (like a scanner almost) and then use that data to “play” the recording. Nothing actually comes in contact with the original, therefore there’s no damage being done. Not only that, but it can actually “smooth” out skips and flawlessly play a record that was broken but put back together. Essentially, this means that one-of-a-kind old recordings can be heard, and are digitized in the process. Naturally, the Library of Congress is already on it to digitize their archives. An interesting anthropological note is another project to play old cylinder recordings of Ishi, which is an interesting story in itself and worth talking to Colleen about when she gets back from Turkey.
One other interesting (to me) aspect of this is the devising and/or borrowing technology to uncover the past. While most people think of archaeologists with a pick, shovel, trowel, brush and screen, we sometimes use some pretty fancy gear. GPS units with sub-meter accuracy to record precise locations of artifacts and features, magnetometer and ground penetrating radar to search for deposits in a non-destructive fashion, some places even do seismic tests on structures. Then there’s all the crazy dating methods you can use, mineral sourcing, it goes on and on.
There’s so much we can learn about our culture, and our past, from these old recordings. It’s really exciting and I really hope they make these available online at low or no cost, for the information and aesthetic value.

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