Barry McNamara  |   Published October 19, 2021

Merging Mathematics, Archaeology

Interdisciplinary subjects to collide during Oct. 20 talk by Monmouth’s Sostarecz

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Mathematics and archaeology will be featured in an interdisciplinary talk to help observe International Archaeology Day, which was earlier this month

MICHAEL SOSTARECZ: Mathematics professor to speak about Reflectance Transformation Imaging during... MICHAEL SOSTARECZ: Mathematics professor to speak about Reflectance Transformation Imaging during Oct. 20 talk.Monmouth College mathematics professor Michael Sostarecz will present a lecture at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 20 at Monmouth’s Warren County History Museum, 238 S. Sunny Lane. Titled “Illuminating the Past: An Application of Data Science to Archaeology,” the talk will be available both in person and via Zoom (meeting ID: 6071788810, passcode: 3xQ8D4).

In collaboration with former Monmouth classics professor Alana Newman –who is now director of the Warren County History Museum – Sostarecz has been working on Reflectance Transformation Imaging. Known as RTI, it is an imaging technique used in archaeology to bring out surface details on artifacts without being invasive.

“RTI allows archaeologists to see fine details in a better way,” said Sostarecz. “All of the data collected is non-invasive. You’re not probing the artifact, just taking pictures of it. Paleontology and forensic science also use this method.”

And when Sostarecz talks about “all of the data,” it’s a very substantial amount.

“The photography is with a fixed camera on a fixed object,” he said. “We take 50 pictures, varying the light, with a high-resolution 24-megapixel camera. So there are billions of pieces of information. This is data science,” in addition to the other types of science the technique serves.

“RTI allows archaeologists to see fine details in a better way. All of the data collected is non-invasive. You’re not probing the artifact, just taking pictures of it. Paleontology and forensic science also use this method.” Michael Sostarecz


At a faculty colloquium near the end of the 2021 spring semester, Sostarecz presented his RTI work on several artifacts, including some collected with Newman in the United Kingdom shortly before international travel was halted in March 2020.

The artifacts presented included Greco-Egyptian pottery from Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology and the British Museum, arrow points as old as 6,000 years from Monmouth College’s Native American Lithic Collection, and Greek coins from the College’s James Christie Shields Collection of Art and Antiquities.

“I had done some work in a lab for Alana’s archaeology class,” said Sostarecz, “looking at surfaces and figuring out how the surfaces would get re-lit under different circumstances. We took the experiment live in London.”

The experiment was a success, and it’s led to an article that he and Newman have submitted to the Journal of Archeological Science.

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