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NASA technology aids archeology dig

archeology strip
NASA's Dr. Marco Giardino, left, and Russell Guerin, a volunteer researcher with the Hancock County Historical Society, use Ground Penetrating Radar to search for buried artifacts at the site of a 19th-century house owned by Andrew Jackson Jr. Once the dig site was located, a shallow plot of earth was removed and sifted.  

October 20, 1999
Web posted at: 4:33 p.m. EDT (2033 GMT)

(CNN) -- NASA, an agency usually associated with the future, recently used its technology to help archaeologists dig into the past at the site of the 19th century home of Andrew Jackson Jr.

Dr. Marco Giardino, a NASA research scientist based at the John C. Stennis Space Center, participated in Mississippi Archaeology Week October 9-16, using remote sensing to conduct non-invasive archaeology at the site.

The objective was to look for artifacts and clues that would expand the historical knowledge of the house of Andrew Jackson Jr., adopted son of the seventh U.S. president.

"Our part in this was to use NASA's Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to survey the site and locate areas where we can excavate," Giardino said.

Ground Penetrating Radar is a non-intrusive, non-destructive method of surveying sites that are becoming more difficult to excavate, such as burial grounds, American Indian mounds, or state and national parks.

"In these times of increased sensitivity, it's a technology that can give us the data we need as archeologists without having to dig extensively in the ground," Giardino said.

NASA participated in the week-long dig at Buccaneer State Park near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, along with representatives from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, volunteers from the Pearl River County Chapter of the Mississippi Archaeological Association, and the Hancock County Historical Society.

The house burned down around 1858 and was immediately rebuilt by Jackson, who went bankrupt in the 1860s. After changing ownership several times throughout the years, the site was leased in 1923 by Bishop Robert Jones for the neighboring Gulfside Methodist Assembly, a pre-eminent African American religious recreational center, where it was used as a men's dormitory.

"As such, it was the first Chataqua-style place for African Americans. Chataqua resorts were primarily beachside resorts where people could have educational, recreational and religious components in one setting," Giardino said. The Jackson home burned again in 1935 and was never rebuilt.

After the second fire, the house's majestic columns and other large pieces were taken away and the site later became a state park.

Using the GPR, Giardino and his team of volunteers located a section of an outbuilding of the original house that showed a number of artifacts on the initial scans. They found melted glass and several nails, bricks, pottery and other remnants dating back to the time Jackson owned the house.

The Mississippi State Park Service plans to use the results of the GPR survey of the area to avoid historically sensitive areas when new facilities are built.

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Archaeology: Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center
NASA Homepage
Archaeology World
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