2 GPRs and a Funeral

For a short, inaugural season, what we were able to accomplish last year was pretty impressive. That said, we came away with a laundry list of things we wanted to do in coming seasons (speaking of laundry, if you missed Shura’s struggle with the mountain of dirty linens we amassed over the past week, take a look at our most recent Instagram pics here). A more comprehensive survey using ground penetrating radar was at the top of that list.

In the final week of 2016’s season, we rented a day’s worth of ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey and processing from the fabulous specialists at Tech Gia in Turin, but one day only gave us two test grids on opposite ends of site. What that limited data told us was instrumental in deciding where we wanted to go and how we would structure our approach this season, but we wanted more!

When an article from the Boise State University’s Arbiter made the rounds, we snagged the attention of Dr. John Bradford in the geosciences department. John has extensive experience all over the world conducting GPR surveys for mining, and utilities development, so when he said this was a project he was eager to be a part of, we jumped at the opportunity to host him and his daughter, Austin. We could only steal them for a week, but it has been a ridiculously productive five days.

John and Austin torture Katie with a recently deceased European Rhinoceros Beetle. No archaeologists were harmed in the taking of this photograph. Please excuse the excessive lense flare…


Week two, with GPR as a central focus, started off with a bang. Because of the more time intensive nature of data collection through GPR, we were expecting to get a maximum of 10 grids evaluated. We picked our chosen fields carefully and John, Austin, and their little yellow unit tore through most of those within the first three days! All of this of course was done while guiding the students (and staff members) in the collection and interpretation of GPR data.

And then it all ground to a screeching halt…

Unfortunately, the nature of GPR survey (literally dragging the radar over uneven terrain, often including large stones and all sorts of damaging goodies) means that the units themselves have limited lifespans. Five or six years old is downright geriatric for a model like the one John brought with him, and while it was trucking along well, the abuses of international travel, hundreds of kilometers of survey in Greenland, and a full life of rocks and hard places took their toll. Rest in peace little friend.

John immediately flew into action and tapped into a vast underground network of geophysicists spanning the world. Hyperbole aside, John contacted a few friends across the Italian peninsula and wrangled not one, but two possible solutions that would help us finish strong. Lo and behold, one of those contacts happened to work with a delightful company we knew and loved, Tech Gia! John and Austin made the drive up to Turin bright and early Thursday morning and picked up the new unit.

Now, something to remember, GPR machines themselves come in all shapes, sizes, and configurations. John’s model was a fleet little yellow guy that required two operators, but was compact enough that it would fit in your standard suitcase. TechGia’s model looks like a cross between a baby buggy and a seed dispenser. It only requires a single operator, but it also operates through a completely different system, which means that after the drive to and from Turin, John gave himself a crash course in the new unit and blazed through another four grids.

The final frontier! John races the new GPR unit down the 100 meter lanes of field M.

Friday we were ready to rumble. It was the last day of GPR and we had already gone through ten grids. We rallied the troops and constricted a long, slightly oddly dimensioned rectangular grid along the busy Via Arquata, and ploughed through it all before lunch time. After a couple of small control grids and the tail end of another field we had hoped to get a better look at, John and Austin were finally done, and were very happy campers with a grand total of twenty grids surveyed through GPR.

We celebrated our collective success in a little trattoria in Gavi and wished John and Austin happy travels. Not to get too emotional, but we will certainly miss them and hope that there will be at least a few more weeks of their GPR expertise in future seasons (that is, if we can manage to stop snoring long enough to get John a full night’s sleep…). In the meantime, we’ll be reliving the fun as the processed data starts coming our way!

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