A research unit of the Department of Anthropology, McGill University
3460 McTavish Street, Peterson Hall, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3A 1X9
Lecturer, Anthropology/Geography, Interdisciplinary Studies, Lakehead University, Orillia
Ph.D (McGill University), M.Sc (University College London), Hon. B.Sc (University of Toronto)
Practice of archaeology, post-colonial societies, geographic information systems (GIS), archaeology of India, computational archaeology, history of science (anthropology and archaeology)
I am deeply interested in the relationship between archaeology and society and how this relationship influences the interpretation of archaeological data. Studying the social context of archaeology provides a better understanding of epistemology or how we know what we know. There are three ways we know a thing: it happens to us, we see it happen to someone else, and someone tells us about it.
My current research project brings together my interests in spatial approaches, social studies of science and geographic visualization towards the development of a geovisual system which enables data mining to detect geographic and spatial patterns and relationships in archaeological information to gain insight on change and continuity in the practice of Indian archaeology. This tool can assist local communities and national institutions in seeking amicable resolutions where tensions exist over ownership of the past.
One dimension of my research involves visualization such as graphs, photographs, and maps, including GIS. The section "Research Projects" showcases some of the ways I have employed visualizations for research. I am constantly looking for ways to develop GIS for teaching.
What is GIS? GIS is a spatially explicit database, and because its records are best represented as maps, visualization is a key strength of these methods. Yet like most computational databases, GIS does not handle time well and this, in turn, poses significant challenges for researchers interested in examining change. Some scholars address these issues through map animation.
My doctoral dissertation, Behind the frontline: local communities, national interests and the practice of Indian archaeology, used time-sensitive GIS methods to examine how political crisis and the desire for social and political stability influenced the development of archaeology in post-colonial India and how the discipline in turn, has been shaped by this relationship. I demonstrated that social and political factors influenced where and when archaeological investigations took place, the questions that archaeologists asked, and the methods they employed and the evidence they accepted. Through visualizations such as maps and animation, I showed that contrary to conventional thinking, archaeological work in postwar India is neither evenly distributed, nor uniformly practiced through time. Rather, specific places are investigated at particular times and the methods employed show greater diversity than is currently accepted.
With Dr Stephen Chrisomalis (opens new window), I examined cultural continuity and archaeological practice in Indian archaeology. Scholars generally accept that South Asian archaeology is characterized by archaeological investigations in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives. Yet this characterization belies disproportionate emphasis on research efforts in post-1947 India. This chapter from my dissertation has been published in the volume entitled, Human Expeditions: Inspired by Bruce Trigger. Contact me for reprints.
On the Quebec Health and Social Services project, I worked with Jesse Sayles to spatially characterize the availability of health and social services for English-speakers in Quebec, Canada. Through maps, we demonstrated that a spatially-explicit analysis of health and social service availability offers a finer resolution of inequalities in service levels for linguistic minorities in Quebec.
We presented our results at two conferences. In our study, service providers included doctors, nurses and social workers. We examined the patient-service provider ratio in each RSS or regional health unit in the province against the percentage of English-speakers in the health unit. These service levels were compared with the global ratio for all Quebec residents. Our preliminary results suggested that the highest service levels were not in the same places where the greatest percentage of English-speakers resided.
Excavations @ Parc Safari project (opens new window), is an interdisciplinary project in Hemmingford, Quebec, which aims to develop tools and technologies for the detection of clandestine graves through an analysis of spectral signatures of burial soils and vegetation. Parc Safari, the local zoo, used these grounds to bury its dead animals over a period of about 30 years, between the 1970s and 2001. Because both the precise location of graves, and their ages are unknown, much like clandestine graves in human rights scenarios, the burial grounds present a unique opportunity to develop technologies for the detection of graves and their excavation. I discuss these issues in greater detail in my article in Archaeologies (opens new window).
Moreover, I used geospatial technologies to encourage class discussion on field methods. We created 3D images and used digital photography to visualize the spatial and stratigraphic position of animal bones. I compared the strengths and weaknesses of three-dimensional recording methods and digital photography. The gallery above presents some of these images. I show how visualizations help us improve field collection of archaeological data.
Over the years, local communities, including researchers, have developed an elaborate trail network throughout the park and have recorded trails using traditional mapping techniques, such as landmarks. Yet until recently, researchers had documented trails on paper maps alone. With Tamaini Snaith, I created a spatially-referenced map for the Kibale trails. On this GIS template, we generated high resolution trail maps which Tamaini used in the field. The image gallery above presents some of these maps. For survey maps and details on the project, check Prof. Chapman's Kibale page (opens new window).
Gupta, N. 2013. What do spatial approaches to the history of archaeology tell us? Insights from post-colonial India. Complutum (Special issue on History of Archaeology), 24 (2): 189-201.
Gupta, N. 2013. Local communities, national governments and forensic and archaeological investigations of human rights violations. Archaeologies -The Journal of the World Archaeological Congress (Special issue on Archaeology in Conflict), 9 (1): 106-131.
Gupta, N. 2013. Cultural continuity, identity and archaeological practice in the Indian context. In Human Expeditions: Inspired by Bruce Trigger, S. Chrisomalis and A. Costopoulos (eds.), pp. 102-115. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Gupta, N. 2012. Before Creation: competing excavators, Imperial Interests and the Making of the Indus civilization in 1920s India. In Scientists and Scholars in the Field: Studies in the History of Fieldwork and Expedition, K .H. Nielsen, M. Harbsmeier and C. J. Ries (eds.), pp. 259-282. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press. (Publishers link / opens new window)
Costopoulos, A, M. W. Lake and N. Gupta. 2010. Introduction. In Simulating Change: archaeology into the twenty-first century, A. Costopoulos and M. W. Lake (eds.), pp. 1-6. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press. (Review by J. Doran / opens new window)
Gupta, N. 2010. Review of Himanshu Prabha Ray, Colonial Archaeology in South Asia: the legacy of Sir Mortimer Wheeler. European Journal of Archaeology, 13: 135-137. DOI: 10.1177/14619571100130010312.
Invited paper: "Geovisual perspectives on late 20th century Indian archaeology: putting ‘place’ in visualization", Session on Seeing, Thinking, Doing: Visualisation as Knowledge Creation, Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG)-On-Sea 2013, Bournemouth University, Bournemouth, UK, Dec 17th, 2013.
Invited poster: "Rakhaldas Banerji’s "pre-Buddhist" period at Mohenjodaro: Insight on the social context of archaeology in colonial India", Harappan and Regional Chalcolithic Cultures of Greater Indus Region: an International Conference on Indus civilization, University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram, India, Nov 25-27th, 2013.
Invited guest lecture for CRIM3030 - Special Topics in Criminology. "How to date a grave: using archaeological methods to refine hyperspectral technologies for investigations of human rights violations", Interdisciplinary Studies, Lakehead University, Oct. 2013.
Session Organizer (co-chaired with Bernard Means). Spatial approaches to the history of archaeology. Sponsored by the History of Archaeology Interest Group (HAIG), Society for American Archaeology, Hawai’i Convention Centre, Honolulu, HI, USA, Apr. 2013.
Conference paper: "Geopolitical concerns, national interests and the case of Sanghol in Indian archaeology", Society for American Archaeology, Hawai’i Convention Centre, Honolulu, HI, USA, Apr. 2013.
Invited paper: "What is the anthropology of development?" Research and Innovation Week 2013, Lakehead University, Orillia Academic Building, Orillia, Ontario, Canada, Feb. 2013. http://research.lakeheadu.ca/research-week/events_2013.html#OrEvents (opens new window)
(with M. Kalacska and A. Costopoulos)."Towards 3D photorealistic visualization for post-field analysis at the Parc Safari cemetery", Session on 3D Imaging in Physical Anthropology – New ways of preserving and analyzing data, Canadian Association for Physical Anthropology, Hôtel des Gouverneurs Place Dupuis, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Oct. 2011.
Invited guest lecture for GEOG201 - Introduction to GIS. "Why 3D visualization?" Geography, McGill University, October 2011.
Invited guest lecture for ANTH357 - Archaeological Methods. "What is 'geographic information systems'?" Anthropology, McGill University, September 2011.
Invited guest lecture "What is 'geographic information systems'?" Archaeology, Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda, Vadodara, Gujarat, August 2010.
(with C. Nielsen and C. Ames) Invited poster: "Tangled corpses: Interpreting a complex mass grave at the Parc Safari cemetery", American Academy of Forensic Sciences, Washington State Convention & Trade Centre, Seattle, WA, USA, Feb. 2010.
(A. Costopoulos, M. Kalacska, C. Nielsen, F. Megret, C. Herzog, S. F. Algozin) Invited paper: "An interdisciplinary and community approach to the identification of clandestine mass graves: the McGill University Parc Safari Project", American Academy of Forensic Sciences, Washington State Convention & Trade Centre, Seattle, WA, USA, Feb. 2010.
(A. Costopoulos) Invited paper: "English Language Health and Social Services Availability in Quebec: a spatial approach", Training and Human Resources Development Project, Partnerships for Sustainability, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Sept. 2008.
Invited paper: "The making of ‘long forgotten’ Mohenjodaro: archaeology in colonial India", Ways of Knowing the Field, International Conference on the History of Field Work, Cartography, and Scientific Exploration, Carlsberg Academy, Copenhagen, Denmark, Aug. 2008. http://www.fieldstudies.dk/107581/ (opens new window)
(A. Costopoulos, J. Warnke, E. Adams, C. Nielsen) Invited paper: "Spatial analysis of social service availability in Quebec", Congrès de l'Acfas, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Trois-Rivières, Quebec, Canada, May 2007.
Invited paper: "Towards a chrono-spatial approach: An example from archaeology", Indo-US Science and Technology Forum, The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Vadodara, Gujarat, India, Mar. 2007.
(in prep.) Gupta, N. Geovisualization for the history of archaeology.