DEGREE: B.A. in studies in antiquity; M.A. in geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing in archaeology, Boston University; Ph.D. in new methods for archaeo-geophysical data visualization, University of Birmingham, UK
JOB TITLE: President, Visual Environment Solutions, LLC
FAVORITE TRINITY MEMORY: My favorite Trinity memories (at this point, mind you it’s been 24 years!) merge together from pizza dinner research sessions with Gary Reger’s classes to crisp autumn football game mornings and late-night walks across the quad.
REPORTER: What does it mean to be a remote sensing and visualization specialist?
WATTERS: A lot of time staring at a computer screen, but also a lot of time in archives and in the field collecting data. While trained as an archaeologist, I specialize in noninvasive mapping of archaeological sites and landscapes, which means I do not dig on a regular basis. I work with a suite of tools for data capture and software for data processing, interpretation, and visualization. Data I work with comes from many platforms, including satellites, airplanes and UAVs, ground-based scanning, and historic archives. I gather data, process, and integrate the results. Then the work begins to interpret a site or landscape.
REPORTER: What drove you to this field of work?
WATTERS: My studies in antiquity at Trinity, including my semester abroad at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome, truly engaged me in past cultures, religions, philosophies, and material culture. When presented with the opportunity to excavate in the Athenian Agora, I pursued it and–backpack packed–left for Greece with a one-way plane ticket. I found myself working for a volcanologist on the island of Santorini. A ground-penetrating radar survey team was engaged as part of his research, and as soon as I realized it could map what was underground without any digging (or me getting too dirty!), I was hooked.
REPORTER: What is Time Team America?
WATTERS: Time Team America is a reality TV program on PBS about using archaeology as a gateway to science. I have been involved from the beginning. I know the original UK developer; when he was looking to bring the program to the United States, I jumped on board. The second season, funded through an NSF grant for informal STEM education, focused on the underlying scientific methods and tools fundamental to archaeology and our investigation, analysis, and interpretation of the past. Part of our goal is to provide engaging programs and opportunities for youth to learn about what we do in the field. We travel as a group to different sites and work alongside local archaeologists bringing relevant specialists with us to help discover and interpret what we find.
REPORTER: What was the most exciting discovery you’ve made in the field?
WATTERS: This is a tough one. I’ve worked on sites around the world and have discovered many amazing things, from a new shaft tomb on the Giza Plateau to a privy (outhouse) at the historic one-room schoolhouse in my hometown. I have three discoveries that I class as the most exciting in my career. Certainly, my first very exciting discovery was a Roman villa in Vescovio, Italy (1997). The second was a temple at the site of Jebel Barkal in Sudan (1998). We had been surveying this amazing site for a month, but due to site conditions, did not map any major structures. On the final day, I surveyed in the morning, packed up all my gear for the three-day over-the-desert trek back to Khartoum, and at lunch reviewed the data, which showed we had mapped a new, previously unknown temple! Finally, of equal excitement to me was a discovery made during the second season of Time Team America (2012): the stockade wall at the Camp Lawton Confederate Prison site in Georgia. Based on the data we had collected with a few survey methods, I marked a trench for a backhoe to dig. It turns out the backhoe skimmed along exposing the eastern wall of the stockade. Continued “ground truthing” of the geophysical data (i.e., digging) identified an additional two walls–the southern and western–thus completing the mapping of the entire enclosure.
REPORTER: How did your time at Trinity prepare you for your career?
WATTERS: My first response to this question is always “how to communicate.” How to learn, research, and synthesize information. I also experienced great friendships, faced great challenges, and had the time to learn more about who I was and what I wanted to do. I may not have been on the high-end, high-tech path when I graduated, but I had the skills and confidence to pursue what I was interested in, including the potential to become a specialist in high-tech applications in archaeology.