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Research to combine archaeological and geotechnical investigations

Frida Klæbo Vonstad, a PhD candidate at University College London (UCL), is developing a framework that combines the test methods from both archaeological and geotechnical investigations.

In connection with Oxford University and Brighton University, Vonstad believes the two disciplines could collaborate more closely, by paying attention to archaeological findings at an early stage of a project and avoid costly delays.

Although investigations are undertaken by geoarchaeologists and geotechnics separately and independently of each other, Vonstad’s research will prove if the two were brought together they could collaborate and have a dialogue in the early stages of a project.

As part of the research, Vonstad plans to carry out laboratory examinations of borehole material from both a geotechnical and geoarcheological perspective and compare the results from the borehole samples with ethnographic field studies.

Afiliated with the Coastal Highway Route E39- project and the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, Vonstad will carry out fieldwork near the Bjørnafjorden south of Bergen.

Vonstad said: “I will perform testing of so-called borehole samples, where we extract samples and analyse the composition of the soil or stone in and around the fjord and the seabed. Many index tests are performed in the same way by both disciplines.

“My project concentrates on how the samples that overlap can be combined in order to reduce the need for sampling and improve collaboration. An added bonus is that we can prevent important knowledge for either one or the other discipline being lost.”

Whereas a geotechnical engineers are mostly investigating the earth’s properties to see what limitations it has on which solutions can be chosen, Vonstad believes that if there are undiscovered man-made-layers, it can cause real danger for the engineers and lead to unforeseen weaknesses in the construction.

Geoarcheologists are looking to “read” the soil layers to see if there may be soil qualities that indicate it might be worth doing an archaeological excavation.

Through cooperation between these two disciplines, the research will be identify historical geological use of the area and register the findings for further geological and archaeological research. Testing can also predict archaeology in the landscape, identifying the findings at an early stage.

Vonstad adds: “In construction projects there is often a great risk that archaeological values may be lost. If geotechnical experts can cooperate with geoarcheologists at an earlier stage in the construction process, it will also be a strength for the archaeological field. It is a win-win situation.”

Both Nasa and the European Space Agency (ESA) are interested in Vonstad’s interdisciplinary approach and are looking at how to extract the best possible soil samples on Mars.

Norwegian Public Roads Administration’s Mathias Egeland Eidem adds: “We are cooperating with Vonstad to achieve a framework that can reduce the risk in the implementation of projects in the Coastal Highway Route E39-project. The earlier on in the process we can gather information, the better.”

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