Recognition for Dr. Justin Walsh’s Pioneering Space Archaeology Project
January 12, 2023
Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences congratulates Dr. Justin St. P. Walsh (Department of Art) and Dr. Alice Gorman (Department of Archaeology at Flinders University in Australia) who were recently presented with the Archaeological Institute of America’s 2023 Award for Outstanding Work in Digital Archaeology for their work on International Space Station Archaeological Project (ISSAP). The ISSAP is the first large-scale space archaeology project of its kind led by Dr. Walsh, Dr. Gorman and a team of international scholars, studying the crew of the International Space Station as a “microsociety in a miniworld.” The project extends the discipline of archaeology in a new context, away from earth and into outer space.
“It was extremely gratifying to be chosen for this honor, since so much of our work over the last seven years has meant contending with gatekeeping on both sides – from space agencies and the space industry, who don’t see the social sciences as “real” science, on the one hand, and from (some) other archaeologists, who don’t think what we do is archaeology, on the other,” said Dr. Walsh.
“We are grateful for the support we’ve received from Wilkinson and Chapman – from President Struppa, Dean Keene, former VP of Research Tom Piechota, and many others,” he said.
Since 2015, the project has developed innovative approaches that leverage digital tools and processes to document the International Space Station as an archaeological site, especially the use of both historic and directed photography to capture relationships between people, places, and things over time. The project also seeks to innovate methods for applying archaeological study to new environments; in this case, outer space. From January to March 2022, the team conducted the first archaeological experiment in space, working in collaboration with ISS astronauts to collect data that will be used to train a machine learning algorithm to automatically label objects in historic imagery. These innovations in archaeological methodology can also be applied to other contexts that are dangerous or difficult for archaeologists to visit, such as polar research stations, ships or submarines, or high-altitude mountain peaks.
“For their efforts in exploring the frontiers of the discipline and for their exemplary public engagement, we are delighted to give to the International Space Station Archaeological Project the 2023 AIA Outstanding Work in Digital Archaeology Award,” noted the Archaeological Institute of America citation.