Archaeologists have probed the cultures of people all over the Earth – so why not study a unique community that is out of this world? A team is creating a one-of-a-kind archaeological record of life aboard the international space station.
The new project, called the Sampling Quadrangle Assemblages Research Experiment, or SQuARE, involves hundreds of photos taken by astronauts in the living and working spaces of the ISS. People have continuously occupied the space station for decades, and the launch of its first modules in the late 1990s coincided with the rise of digital photography. This meant that astronauts were no longer limited by film cartridges when documenting life in space, and that space archaeologists— yes, that’s one thing — had only to speculate from afar.
But this is the first time that archaeologists have coordinated this photograph in order to be able to analyze it. The SQuARE photos, taken over 60 days last year, show everything from anti-gravity hacks to food treats enjoyed by astronauts. Justin Walsh, an archaeologist at Chapman University and the University of Southern California at Los Angeles, thinks images like these are extremely useful for social scientists who want to know how people use limited tools and the material comfort they have in space. “If we could just capture the information in a database – get the people, places and things that are in the photos – then we could start tracing the behavior patterns there and the associations between people and things. things,” says Walsh, who presented the team’s preliminary findings yesterday afternoon at the American Archeological Society conference in Portland, Oregon.
Walsh co-leads SQuARE with Alice Gorman, an archaeologist at Flinders University in Australia. The main thing she wants to learn, she says, is, “What are the social consequences of a small, isolated society so far from Earth? What kinds of human behavior do you have if you take away something as basic as gravity? »
Contemporary archeology is about inferring people’s social world from the physical objects and built spaces they use, offering insights into people’s daily lives that they may not even be aware of. Scientists consider archeology to be closely related to, or even part of, anthropology, but anthropological methods rely more on observation and interviewing. However, the interviews tell only part of the story. Psychologists have known for decades that people are poor judges of their own behavior. Memory can be biasedAnd eyewitness accounts may be inaccurate.
“We’re interested in things that people don’t remember, or even register, when describing what they do in their lives,” Gorman says. “Our approach is that you can see what people have actually done, not just what they said they did it. This is what the archaeological records tell us.
The ISS folder includes tools, research materials, food packets, cleaning supplies, and other everyday items. The team captured footage of them — a “proxy excavation,” as Gorman puts it — by having NASA and European Space Agency astronauts take daily photos from January 21 to March 21, 2022. Astronauts Kayla Barron, Matthias Maurer and others took photos in six locations, including at the kitchen table, on a starboard workstation, on the port side of the US lab module and on the wall across from a latrine. Each photo captured an area of approximately 1 square meter marked with tape at the corners – hence the nickname SQuARE – and team members took photos with a color grading chart to correct digital imagery and a ruler for scale. After amassing 358 photos, the archeology team went through them with a fine-toothed comb, marking objects that show signs of use, as well as those that are in the same location in each photo, a sign that they are virtually unused. not used.