The Associated Press
GREENVILLE – Describing his innovative use of technology as creative grant writing, Tommy Hailey, an assistant professor of archaeology from Northwestern State University in Louisiana has taken the drudgery of an archaeological dig to newer and greater heights.
While other studies have been done from the air with blimps, this is believed to be the first use of a power parachute by archaeologist.
Arriving at the Winterville Mounds this week, Hailey and archaeology student J.T. Stark rolled the university's “Destiny 2000” powered parachute from its trailer onto a grass runway on the property of Delta & Pine Land Co. in Scott.
Monday's was just another flight for Hailey, but a maiden voyage for the recent graduate Stark.
The specially equipped, dual-seat powerchute took to the late evening sky and headed southward, six miles as the crow flies to the Winterville Mounds.
At a cruising speed of about 30 mph, it didn't take long for the 65-horsepower engine and 550-square-foot parachute to move the crew into position for work before the sun dropped into the western sky.
Quickly, the men – professor and student – circled over the landscape of the Winterville Indian Mounds, digitally photographing one of state's most important sites for giving modern Mississippians a glimpse into the culture and history of the Native Americans who once lived in the Mississippi Valley.
Upon returning to their landing site at Scott, the two worked quickly packing away the craft and gear as ever watchful Delta mosquitos feasted on them.
With some basic ideas on what the mounds looked like from the air, Hailey, Winterville Mounds archaeologist John Sullivan and the University of Mississippi's Bryan S. Haley, the school's coordinator of remote sensing applications Center for Archaeological Research, made concise plans for Tuesday's early morning readings using a thermal camera for infrared readings.
With an aerial view, this particular piece of equipment can sense temperature differences of 10 degrees Celsius under the surface of the park. And by using the powered parachute, the research team can cover the entire area in about an hour where a ground team would have to take hours or even days.
This data will be cross-referenced against other data acquired by Bryan Haley and a team of archaeological students in the summer of 2003. Over several days, Haley and his team of students used sound and resistance metering studies to compile data which was later cross referenced with data archaeologist Jeffrey Brain found during his late 1960s dig on the site.
What were expected to have been a successful second and third flight by both Tommy Hailey and Bryan Haley will also be added to the mounds data base.
“This is really fascinating,” Sullivan said of the aerial survey. “We can take Hailey's aerial data, cross reference it with others and focus our attention on any anomalies.”
Eleanor Schnabel, branch director, was also quite impressed with the survey.
“These new and creative techniques of noninvasive survey of archaeological site helps to confirm Jeffrey Brain's theories. This is just another wonderful tool advancing the science.”