David Selmo

Prehistory archaeology in the State of Florida (USA) focuses much attention on the Archaic period. Of the 1000+ known Paleoindian sites in Florida, Wakulla Springs, ‘Site #24’ has yielded archaic archaeological finds for over 100 years.   At the bottom of the basin near the cave is a scattering of mastodon bones.  During surveys in 2008 divers happened upon a mastodon fossil with deep grooves characteristic of prehistoric human activity in the form of ‘butchery marks’.   In May of 2013 myself and a team of colleagues from the Aquatic Science Association (http://aquaticscienceassociation.org/) co-authored and submitted a proposal to the State of Florida for permits to conduct a baseline archaeological survey of Wakulla Springs in 2014.  When writing the proposal, I asked myself what was the very best way to record diagnostic details on anticipated finds in situ?  After a thorough examination of current digital recording technologies it became clear Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) was the best approach because it generated high-resolution data using nothing more than an ordinary dive camera and lighting.   However, after investigation I discovered nobody could offer direct advice on how to go about capturing RTI data under water because it had apparently never been tried.

Turning to Cultural Heritage Imaging, a 501c3 non-profit corporation dedicated to the  development and adoption of practical digital imaging and preservation solutions; an internationally recognized source of RTI expertise, I reached out to the scientific digital imaging community with a public blog.  I emphatically inquired ‘Does anybody know anybody who knows anybody who has dabbled with RTI underwater? I would love some contacts.’  In lieu of contacts, I instead received a flood of support from digital imaging experts verifying underwater RTI has yet to be explored and encouragement for me to move forward with a research design to attempt it.  This is that research design; a Master of Science dissertation on the viability of RTI as an underwater diagnostic tool and a subsequent baseline feasibility study for the further development of technology and methodology in support of Reflectance Transformation Imaging in sub-aquatic environments.

The project aims to demonstrate equipment selection, configuration, operation, and environmental conditions necessary to achieve scientific research-quality Underwater Reflectance Transformation Imaging (hereafter URTI) datasets.  It ambitiously targets data-capture from two critically interdependent sub-aquatic paradigms; the laboratory and the field.  The project seeks to provide decisive, quantified and qualitative answers to the following research questions:

  1. Can a scuba diver get in the water with recreational dive equipment and common photography equipment and resurface from a single dive with a usable and relevant set of URTI images?
  2. Can diver-generated URTI images be successfully converted into usable PTM files using conventional well established open-source software protocols or will they require additional post processing steps?
  3. What impact does water turbidity have on the quality of URTI datasets?

As of this posting (June 24, 2013) the project is well underway and experiencing some outstanding results.  See blog posts. Dave Selmo: mos11b1p@hotmail.com

I’m a former US Army Infantry officer (of the Desert Storm generation), an avid open ocean technical overhead environment full-cave scuba diver as well as a PADI & BSAC open water dive instructor with a BA in English Creative Writing from Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, MI. US). I discovered a passion for archaeology underwater through the Northwestern Michigan College (Traverse City, Michigan US) branch of Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS). It is there that I met visiting NAS tutor Mr. Ian Cundy of the Malvern Archaeological Diving Unit of Worcestershire, UK. He helped inspire in me that a high degree of professionalism (and fun!) can be achieved from non-vocational maritime archaeology. I’ve had the opportunity to utilize sector scan sonar imaging and then plan and execute a dive in Lake Michigan that resulted in the positive identification of a previously unknown shipwreck (the “B West”). That experience motivated me to further my studies in maritime archaeology. I completed formal training in sector scan sonar by one of the world’s leading experts in its development, Mr. Mark Atherton (Kongsberg Mesotech), and one of the world’s top independent operators of the equipment, Mr. Brian Abbott of Nautilus Marine Group (Pavlopetri). Ian, Mark, and Brian helped solidify my passion for archeology beneath the waves. In the summer of 2012 I served as PI for a NAS level 2 archaeological assessment survey of 19th century submerged remnants of a Michigan wooden shipping pier. (I co-drafted the proposal, secured permits, recruited volunteers, logistically provided for all aspects of the project, drafted press releases, gave television and radio interviews, and served as the lead diver on the project—a total station survey of 600+ submerged points in 5.5m of fresh water, up to 200+ m from shore.) It was a learning process that ultimately revealed to me a desire to take my maritime archaeology passion to the professional level.
I’m interested in submerged paleolandscape, the submerged Florida Archaic period, Mesolithic in the Baltic, 16th-19th century shipwrecks, submerged Bronze Age in the Middle East, submerged cave archaeology, and the development of technologies and methodologies that support and enhance diver-lead maritime archaeology.