At age 17, like a lot of teenagers, Samuel Burns wanted to go to college. Unlike most college-bound 17-year-olds however, Samuel didn’t have a high school degree. Today, Samuel is a first-year master’s student in Applied Anthropology, within the School of Language, Culture, and Society, and the Department of Anthropology. Also, this is his second master’s degree.
Samuel works with Dr. Loren Davis to investigate the earliest archeological sites in North America, and there are two big questions to answer: when did humans first arrive in North America, and by what route did the earliest humans arrive? Traditionally, humans are thought to have entered North America through the Rocky Mountains, but more recent evidence suggests that maritime cultures may have arrived first, finding North America via the ocean. The oldest fish hooks in North America are somewhere between ~11,300 to 10,700 years years old and were discovered off the coast of Baja California, Mexico on Cedros Island.
Cedros Island is just one of two archeological sites of interest for Samuel’s research group, and while he has been to Cedros to conduct fieldwork, Samuel’s work focuses on artifacts from one pit in the second site: Cooper’s Ferry in Cottonwood, Idaho, near the Salmon River. From Cooper’s Ferry, seemingly interesting artifacts are brought back to the lab where they are sorted, confirmed to be artifacts, and studied.
Samuel is able to take the artifacts, make 3D scans of the object, and input this information into a computational program. The computer converts the 3D scans into mathematical shapes and 3D models. So instead of looking at a couple things by eye and estimating if artifacts are similar or different, the program can compare large sets of data with discreet numbers and make conclusions about whether or not two artifacts found in different places have similar shapes. This allows researchers to ask questions about tool development over time and place.
To make 3D images, a laser scanner has been used in the past, but this is both expensive and large, so new methods are actively being developed for this purpose. One option is a structured light scanner, which has a light shining through multiple holes. To use a structured light scanner, you place your artifact on a patterned background and take lots of photos at many angles, producing a large amount of data to feed the computer program. Another easier option for 3D modeling is photogrammetry, which only requires a camera and a computer, even just a phone camera will work. This soft ware used is called “GLiMR” (GIS-based Lithic Morphometric Research) and is based on GIS software for modeling geographical landscapes, and the automation and ease of such a program enables archeologists to spend less time collecting numbers and more time assessing these numbers through statistical analyses and asking interesting questions.
When you think about ancient North American stone artifacts, megafauna hunting tools like arrow heads and spears come to mind. However, in both the Cedros and Cooper’s Ferry sites, simpler tools are being found that suggest early North Americans exploited a wide range of resources and had a broad-spectrum diet. For example, artifacts found include shell or stone tools for processing fiber to making fishing line.
Growing up, Samuel never went to school and wasn’t homeschooled, but always loved history. He lived in an 1850s farmhouse, and spent his childhood going through old objects from his backyard, left behind over the past 100+ years. At age 17, realizing he wanted to go to college but not having the traditional requirements, Samuel applied to a University in Jerusalem and got in. After spending a year there, he ran out of money, and spent next few years working and moving around the world, including in South Korea and Israel. Eventually, he returned to the US and jumped back into school at a community college in Michigan and ultimately transferred to the University of Michigan, where he focused on ancient cultures and language of middle east.
Samuel graduated from UM in 2010 and then got a master’s degree at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, focusing on Egyptian studies. This first master’s centered around Syria and unfortunately, this research project was not able to be pursued further, so Samuel spent the next five years working in cultural resource management in the US. Through this job, he was able to travel around the US and soon became interested in North American archeological research. Samuel had a strong liberal arts background but, wanting to expand his earth science knowledge, came to Oregon State.
Eventually, Samuel wants to obtain a PhD and work in academia, continuing to formulate and direct research projects.
To hear more about Samuel’s path to OSU and experiences in archeological research, tune in Sunday, February 16th at 7 PM on KBVR 88.7 FM, live stream the show at http://www.orangemedianetwork.com/kbvr_fm/, or download our
podcast on iTunes!