An MSU professor is setting out to use new technology on old parts of the world. Jon Frey, a professor in the Department of Art, Art History and Design, is working on a project to digitize archaeological sites in Isthmia, Greece.

Greece Archive 3

A comparison of the best imagery possible from Google Earth, left,
and the image Frey's team was able to create from drone work of
ancient sites in Isthmia, Greece. Courtesy of Jon Frey.

In 1993, Frey set out to Isthmia, one of the most important cities in the Ancient World, as part of the Ohio State University Excavations at Isthmia when he was a student at Ohio State University.
Frey came back to work on the excavation in 1995 and 1996, eventually coming back as a field coordinator at the site. Art history and visual culture senior Stephanie Vettese said she first met Frey in a class freshman year and enjoyed his teaching style.

“He’s really animated when he teaches, so he’s jumping all over the place. He’s really excited and passionate about his work and he loves to make modern day comparisons, too, so that helps people learn, but also (he) is just hilarious. He’s great.”

This passion led to Frey coming back to the excavation in 2007, and he used that time to come up with a different approach. Frey has started to digitize the sites at Isthmia and the records of past excavations at those sites by making maps and 3-D models with GPS, drones, aerial photography and more to show where different discoveries were found during previous excavations. Frey said while most archaeologists do keep records of what they dig up, they don’t often share it with the public.
With the digitization, Frey's intention is to make the records public. He said he wants to honor and expand the "unspoken contract" among archaeologists. According to Frey:

“When archaeologists are given the opportunity to dig these things up, we owe it to the people who gave us the permission to do that and we owe it to the international (and) cultural heritage community to tell people what we found. In some ways, to dig something up and then to not really tell the wider community about what you found is about the same thing as not having it dug up at all.” 

Frey said digitizing these records and sites will allow archaeologists to connect them together, so future archaeologists and excavators can see what has been excavated in the past and know what to look for in the future.

“If somebody is digging in 1960 … and then somebody comes back and digs something else in 1980, and they have a general sense of what happened in 1960 but not necessarily a very careful sense, they may not make the connection that we can make today. That’s something you couldn’t necessarily do with the old plans. Now we can do it quite effectively with new, digital plans.” 

Anthropology senior Lucy Steele said Frey's ability to use technology to do excavations was something she didn’t know was possible.

“I think where he’s going with this project is very interesting, just to kind of rethink how to visualize a site, because it’s destroyed as it’s dug. To be able to put that into the digital side and recreate that and look at spacial relationships differently is very exciting.”

Source: Slatenews (Jonathan LeBlanc, April 18, 2017)