Paleontology Conference - SAFA 2016

IMG_5304 Hello!

This post is a small departure from my regular prosthetic-centric posts, but ties in to work I completed for the Biomedical Visualization program.  Earlier this month I had the opportunity to present my graduate research to a group of paleontologists at the 2016 Society of Africanist Archaeologists (SAfA) meeting in Toulouse, France.  Dr. Paul Sereno, from the University of Chicago, lead a session at the meeting that was exclusively related to all things Gobero - a massive grave site in Niger where he and his team discovered a burial complex with over 200 plots.  I had the opportunity to digitally excavate of one of these burial plots and create interactive 3D models and animations for three human skeletons recovered from a single grave (dubbed the "Triple Burial"). You can read a more detailed summary of the project in a previous post, Digital Paleontology.



The conference was divided up into different sessions that took place over several days, each session concerned with a specific topic, such as geoarchaeology, pottery, fossils, and so forth.  Most sessions had a common theme with examples from several different regions, excavation sites, etc.  The Gobero session was unique in the fact that every single presentation was specific to the region, dealing with the fossils, artifacts, climate, and geology of the Gobero region; a monument to the sheer volume of information and data recovered from the singular site.  Over the course of the day, 15 presentations were given by experts in the field and graduate students who also worked on the Gobero site, many of whom were part of the excavation teams that went to Niger.  Here is a National Geographic special following Dr. Sereno on a dig in Gobero.

Dr. Sereno gave several presentations on the history of the site, covering information about the two separate groups tho occupied the area (Kiffian and Tenerean populations).  The amount of detail and analysis done for the site was incredible, with presentations on the soils and sediments of the region, how the climate changed, and how the paleolake levels changed over time.  Other presentations included ceramics, fabric, and ornamentation recovered from the site, as well as extremely well preserved fishing points.  Another presentation was centered around the very effective means of excavation and transportation that Dr. Sereno's team utilized in order to pull entire specimens out of the ground in their original orientation.  This allowed the specimens and artifacts recovered from the site to be documented extensively as they were cleaned in a lab environment, rather than having to excavate the specimens on-site.

Tyler Keillor, a paleoartist who works with Dr. Sereno at UofC, and also a member of my graduate research committee, was responsible for creating a highly detailed and realistic replica plaque of the Triple Burial specimens.  The result is quite impressive as a physical display, and works hand-in-hand with the work I completed digitally.  Since Tyler was unable to attend, I presented the work he completed for the plaque side-by-side with my work to show the various ways in which the burial was preserved and replicated.  Here is a video of Tyler making the plaque, and here are some photos of the plaque and the digital renders:

Plaque - front

Plaque - back




As someone without a background in paleontology or archaeology, it was an incredible and humbling experience to be invited to share my contribution to the project in front of such a knowledgable group of specialists.  I felt as though I had somehow manipulated the system, being invited into a secret society that many people don't get to see.  Honestly, as someone with an art degree and an affinity for Indiana Jones films, this was one of the LEAST likely situations I ever expected to find myself in - and it was amazing!  Dr. Sereno is planning on putting together another paper and exhibit on the Gobero site, which will use the Triple Burial specimens as a focal point, so hopefully I'll get the opportunity to contribute more 3D models and animations to the project in the future!


The group of people I met in Toulouse were really great.  After living in Belgium for the past eight months, it was funny to meet with a group of people from Chicago, in another country, and all talk about the various aspects of this huge project that we all had in common.  This was a reunion of sorts for many of the people who worked with Gobero, since the most recent excavation of the site was several years ago and many of those involved had moved away from Chicago to work on new projects.  These types of professional meetings are cool for many reasons, but one reason in particular is the cameraderie.  Everyone has ties to a single subject, and these meetings allow everyone to come together to share what they know and reminisce.

Toulouse itself was a really beautiful city.  This was my first trip to the south of France, but it will definitely not be my last.  Aside from the huuuuuuuuuumidity, the weather was nice and hot.  There were open-air markets in the city squares, and tons of people were out taking advantage of the summer weather.  I was only there for a short period of time, so I didn't get to do a lot of exploration outside of the city center, but Carcassonne is only a short trip from Toulouse, which is reason enough to return. Anywho, here are a few pictures from the trip: