Resurrecting Astro-paleontology

24 11 2010

Archaeologists excavating an alien artifact in 1928 Egypt from the movie "Stargate." According to the Armitage scheme, such an item would be classified as "Advanced Intelligent (non-indigenous) remains." (Credit: MGM)

A quick note today pointing to an interview with astro-paleontology pioneer John Armitage that was recently published on the Space Archaeology blog.

In short, Armitage pioneered research (see: Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, vol. 30, pp. 466-9, 1976) that was quite nearly lost to the sands of time until rescued by Steve Wilson and posted on his blog.  The research included a breakdown of hypothetical astro-paleontology considerations that admittedly overlap xenoarchaeology and were decades ahead of their time, (directly overlapping research I’m currently pursuing.)

Be sure the check out both the Space Archaeology posts.

(Simply being able to rebroadcast information like this is proof to me of the infinite utility of our global information superstructure!  One person can now make a discovery, which can trickle outward through the internet as post/page/tweet dominos…)

Amongst the more interesting contents of the 1976 paper is Armitage’s proposition of a discretized “remains” continuum.  With it, he essentially breaks down what planetary and interstellar explorers could expect to find and what consequent mode of study or detection the remains would require.  Specifically, I suggest that his proposed differences between “metazoan grade (non-intelligent)” and “metazoan grade (intelligent)” are deserving of the greatest renewed investigation or development, as our concept of intelligence is quite arbitrary here on Earth where the differences between “archaeology,” “anthropology,” “biology,” and, “paleontology” are concerned.

Food for thought.

Advertisements




Xenoarchaeology Online

9 10 2010

I am excited to report that my article, “A call for proactive xenoarchaeological guidelines – Scientific, policy and socio-political considerations,” has been published online by the journal Space Policy as an in-press corrected proof as it awaits publication in an upcoming issue.  (I mentioned working on it previously in a post here.)

The thrust of the paper is that when you consider the galactic timescales and hazards we know to be in play against the evolution of alien life, we’re likely to discover evidence of life before we discover astrobiology itself.  Further, it’s only a matter of time before we identify suspected material evidence of astrobiological activity.  -And regardless of whether or not it turns out to be a real find, we should be prepared to investigate and evaluate it will the scientific rigor deserving of an actual find, with the foresight to successfully manage information verification and public dissemination.

The paper is a stab at highlighting the applicable scientific protocols, planetary pitfalls, and social snags a xenoarchaeological investigation might face in the hopes of stimulating discussion toward the development of a fully-fledged field of study.

Here’s to making it one step closer (academically, anyway) to the stars.  Feedback welcome.

UPDATE 11/2010:  The article has been officially published in Space Policy Volume 26, Issue 4, November 2010, Pages 209-213.





Alien archeology – now a real science?

15 05 2010

Concept sketch of Mars xenoarchaeological site from movie Total Recall. Credit: Steve Burg

Well, I’ve done it.  Making good on a promise I made to myself while presenting a poster at the Society of American Archaeology conference in 2008, I recently submitted an article to the journal Space Policy outlining a framework for a science that doesn’t quite exist yet: Xenoarchaeology.

“Xeno” is Greek/Latin for “foreign” or “stranger.”

Seriously.  I drew from SETI protocols, interplanetary geological sample return guidelines, archaeology fundamentals, and historical examples to make a call for a proactive set of xenoarchaeological guidelines.  My argument?  -The moment that we find something we think might be the real deal on another planet is the wrong moment to try and figure out how to study it correctly and credibly.  And we’ve got spacecraft and landers everywhere these days.  -It’s only a matter of time until we do cross over something that makes us double-take.

To paraphrase my general points in the paper, an archeological mindset is particularly well-suited to analyzing a site of truly unknown character, but there are planetary science landmines a regular archaeologist would be completely unprepared to dodge.  Gravity, temperature, chemistry, and electromagnetic environment can all be (and likely are) very different on another world, which will affect essentially every property of an object.  On Earth we can take all of those things for granted – the strength and effectiveness of friction, for example.  On Mars?  We had to completely redesign the drill bits used on our Mars rovers simply because the effectiveness of a cutting edge on Mars is only half what it is here on Earth because the atmospheric pressure is so low, which is in turn because the gravity is 1/3 weaker.  See what I mean?

If it walks like an arrowhead, and it talks like an arrowhead… it might not actually be an arrowhead on Mars.

So, that’s my stab at taking a scientific discipline out of the realm of science fiction and elevating it to reality.  -The paper made it favorably through editorial review, and I am waiting to hear back on comments from the peer referees.

My ulterior motive?  I really do believe it’s only a matter of time until we find something – and if I center myself in the burgeoning discipline, when we do find something (if I don’t happen to be the one who stumbles across it, myself)… they’ll have to call me.

Fingers crossed.

(NOTE, 10/2010:  The paper was accepted and published!  Find it here.)

(NOTE, 05/2011: See the follow-up post on article responses here!)








%d bloggers like this: