Hi everyone! My name is Ashley Peles and I am currently a doctoral candidate at UNC-Chapel Hill. My research is based around understanding foodways through both floral and faunal analysis. In particular, my doctoral research involves the analysis of assemblages from three Late Woodland mound sites in the Lower Mississippi Valley, one of which dates between A.D. 400-700 (Baytown period) and two that date between A.D. 700-1200 (Coles Creek period). Part of my interest in digital archaeology stems from this work. All or parts of these mounds have completely disappeared and what is left is seen in a drastically different setting than it originally would have been experienced. On top of this, mounds were built and added to at different times, meaning that each site would have been experienced differently depending upon where we look in the site’s lifecycle. With that in mind, I have been interested for a long time in learning digital technologies that could help archaeologists create relatively accurate reconstructions of archaeological sites.

To facilitate learning such technologies, I began a project last year as part of a year-long digital humanities fellowship that I am calling ReCreating Natchez. This project involves recreating a small portion of Natchez, Mississippi during the French colonial period. In 1729, the Natchez Indians reached their limit and burned the French settlement, including Fort Rosalie, to the ground. In addition to the purposeful destruction of the settlement, changes in the landscape have further altered archaeologists’ ability to investigate this early period. Perhaps the most pertinent in the case of Fort Rosalie is bluff-edge erosion.

From Fort Rosalie, scene of terrible massacre of French by the Natchez Indians, year 1729.  Sysid 92207.  Scanned as tiff in 2008/08/12 by MDAH.  Credit:  Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History

Postcard of the ruins of Fort Rosalie, 1907. Credit: Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History

As with most forts, Fort Rosalie was built on a high point along the bluffs bordering the Mississippi River. The soils that make up the Natchez bluffs are called loess, and are subject to large amounts of erosion when they become waterlogged. Based on our best estimates of the location of Fort Rosalie, it appears that nearly all of the archaeological remains of the fort have been lost due to the changing bluff line.  The disappearing site of Fort Rosalie is a common problem for archaeologists. In this case, we a well-drawn map created by the French engineer Ignace Francois Broutin in 1723. While we can’t know exactly what the landscape looked like during the 1720s, we can create a reasonable approximation of the bluff line using this map in conjunction with the ArcGIS program ArcMap. I have then been using Unity3D as a platform to view this landscape in 3-dimensional space. My plan is to add vegetation, water, and French buildings in order to repopulate at least the French side of the landscape as it might have looked immediately before 1729. Ultimately, I would like this landscape to be suitable to be viewed on a touchscreen console at the Natchez Visitor’s center and accessible to the National Park Service, who owns the land where Fort Rosalie lays.

Unity_landscape

Natchez_landscape

A recreation, however, creates a common problem for archaeologists. At this early period, we do not know exactly what French colonial buildings looked like, and we don’t want to falsely imply that we do. I would like to take this ambiguity and use it as a learning experience. Using the colonial buildings as a prototype example, I am proposing to create a pop-up window that walks a user through the information we currently know about early French colonial buildings. During this process, you would make choices about aspects of architecture; you would “construct” the building in the process of learning about it. As a result, there would be multiple versions of a French colonial building rather than one single static piece of architecture.

Not knowing JavaScript well, the interactive window scares me more than the Unity process. However, as we have been told, fail big and fail publicly. Therefore, I plan on using this space to chronicle my work over the next year. Every month I will have a few tasks that I hope to figure out, and hopefully by the time I write the next blog post, I will have some words of advice about what works and what to avoid.

With that idea in mind, here are the tasks I would like to cross off my list in the next month:
•    Finish the alpha version and begin the finalized version of the Fort Rosalie/Natchez landscape (alpha version is an entirely artificial reconstruction)
•    Figure out water in Unity (harder than it seems when you have multiple streams flowing into a river)
•    Create wireframe/flow chart for interactive window

See you next month!