Archaeologists have done research the cultures of people all over the earth – so why not study a unique community that is not of this world? One team is creating a unique archaeological record of life aboard the International Space Station.
The new project, called the Sampling Quadrangle Assemblages Research Experiment, or SQuARE, involves hundreds of photographs taken by astronauts in the living and working areas of the ISS. Humans have continuously occupied the space station for decades, and the launch of the first modules in the late 1990s coincided with the rise of digital photography. That meant astronauts were no longer limited by film cans when documenting life in space, and all that space archaeologists– yes, that’s one thing – no longer just had to speculate about it from afar.
But this is the first time archaeologists have coordinated that photography so they could analyze it. The SQuARE photos, taken over 60 days last year, show everything from anti-gravity hacks to food treats astronauts enjoy. Justin Walsh, an archaeologist at Chapman University and the University of Southern California at Los Angeles, thinks images like this are hugely helpful to social science researchers who want to understand how humans use the limited resources and material comforts that put them in space. are available. “If we could just capture the information in a database — the people, places and objects that are in the photos — then we could really start tracking down the patterns of behavior there and the associations between people and things,” says Walsh, who presented the team’s preliminary findings yesterday afternoon at the Association for American Archeology conference in Portland, Oregon.
Walsh co-leads SQuARE with Alice Gorman, an archaeologist at Flinders University in Australia. The most important thing she wants to learn, she says, is: “What are the social consequences of a small isolated society that is so separated from the Earth? What kind of human behavior do you have when you take away something as basic as gravity?
Contemporary archeology involves inferring people’s social worlds 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, interviews only reveal part of the story. Psychologists have known for decades that people judge their own behavior poorly. Memory may be biasedAnd eyewitness accounts can be inaccurate.
“We’re interested in things that people don’t remember or even register when they describe what they do in their lives,” says Gorman. “Our approach is that you can see what people actually did, not just what they did said they did. That is what the archaeological record tells us.”
The ISS record includes tools, research equipment, food bags, cleaning supplies and other everyday objects. The team took pictures of it — a “vicarious dig,” as Gorman puts it — by having astronauts from NASA and the European Space Agency take pictures daily from January 21 to March 21, 2022. Astronauts Kayla Barron, Matthias Maurer and others took photos in six locations, including the galley, a starboard workstation, the port side of the American laboratory module and the wall opposite a latrine. Each photo covered an area about 1 square meter marked with adhesive tape at the corners—hence the name SQuARE—and crew members took photos with a color calibration chart for correcting digital images and a ruler for scale. After collecting 358 photos, the archeology team searched them and marked objects that show signs of use, as well as objects that are in the same place in each photo, a sign that they are barely used.