Jessica Ogden ’04 involved in historic archaeology project
Jessica Ogden ’04 was part of a team in Italy excavating the archaeological sight at Portus — ancient Rome’s gateway to the sea — in what is called one of the most important archaeological project in the world. But rather than a pick and shovel, she used cutting-edge geophysical technology that gives a 21st century mole’s-eye-view of what’s buried underground without ever having to break the surface.
The advent of technologies such as ground-penetrating radar (GPR), geographic information systems (GIS) and global positioning systems (GPS) have provided sophisticated new tools to map and look below the surface so archaeologists are able to see if there is a structure worth investigating before they even think about picking up a shovel.
“The site has been part of the excavations and ongoing research of the Portus Project with which the British School at Rome (BSR) is a collaborative institution,” Ogden says. “I first became involved with the BSR while doing my master’s of science degree at the University of Southampton, between 2007-08. My dissertation topic centered on the application and integration of geophysical remote sensing technologies such as GPR as a mechanism for ‘looking beneath the surface’ at the site of Portus.
“In the last year of excavations [the project] received a lot of media attention from the BBC, CNN, National Geographic and other media groups for our application of a range of cutting-edge technologies to the recording and analysis of this historically significant site,” she continues. “In addition, after completing my master’s degree, I was invited to do a research assistantship in archaeology at the BSR, applying geophysical survey methods at archaeological sites around Mediterranean Europe.”
Ogden explains the basics of how GPR works.
“Essentially, the antenna sends out a series of electromagnetic pulses into the ground and they bounce off reflectors, which in the case of Portus could be walls, rooms, and surfaces of the remaining port structures. Then we can locate the features and calibrate how deep they are, which is really helpful in archaeology as feature depth and stratigraphy are at the heart of all archaeological interpretation.”
When Ogden graduated from Centre with a major in anthropology and a minor in French, this was not the career she envisioned.
“To be honest, I had no idea I was going to go into archaeology,” she says. “I took the one archaeology class offered at Centre, and enjoyed it very much but never seriously thought about going into the field.
“However, after a series of internships with the Student Conservation Association and archaeologists at the National Park Service in Cape Cod National Seashore, I knew I wanted to start a career in cultural resources and archaeology,” she continues. “This is also where I began getting involved with the application of various types of technologies such as GIS and GPS for the management and conservation of archaeological resources. Afterwards, I started a job in the GIS and cartography department at a commercial archaeological unit in Arizona and never looked back!”
Ogden is now a partner at L – P: Archeology, a commercial archeology unit in London.
“I’m involved with a wide range of digital and geophysical projects, including the application and development of an online archaeological excavation recording kit (ARK), public archaeology and outreach through web-media development, and continued involvement with archaeological research projects such as the Portus Project and the Çatalhöyük Research Project,” she says. “The position at the L – P has given me the unique opportunity to remain involved with academic research projects through the application of digital technologies, whilst also getting an understanding of commercial archaeology in the United Kingdom and how it relates to commercial archaeological practices in the United States.”