The First Archaeological Space Experiment Is Happening Aboard the ISS

'Bringing archaeological perspectives to an active space domain'.
Chris Young

While most people naturally associate archaeology with ancient remains and treasured artifacts, one group of scientists is breaking that mold by kickstarting the first-ever archaeological project aboard the International Space Station (ISS), a press statement reveals.

It is the first time such a project has taken place aboard any space habitat and its aim is to catalog how humans adapt their living behaviors while in space for months at a time. As a point of reference, the longest stay aboard the ISS so far is NASA astronaut Christina Koch's 328-day stay, which ended last year.

"We're the first to try to understand how humans relate to the items they live with in space," explained Associate Professor Justin Walsh of Chapman University in California, one of the study leads. "By bringing archaeological perspectives to an active space domain, we're the first to show how people adapt their behavior to a completely new environment." 

Archaeological test pits in space

The International Space Station Archaeological Project (ISSAP) started this week with its first experiment, called the Sampling Quadrangle Assemblages Research Experiment (SQuARE). The goal of the experiment is to build the equivalent of a test pit in space. On Earth, archaeologists dig a one-meter square test pit (3.28 ft) to understand the site they are investigating and plan what to investigate next.

Instead of a dig site, the ISSAP team will use adhesive tape to outline one-meter areas of the aging ISS for investigation. The investigations will be carried out via daily photographs for a total of 60 days, showing how the different spaces are used.

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The "pits" will be located in different areas, such as the galley table, the workstation, and a wall near a latrine. The ISS crew were also asked to choose one final test area, and they went with one of the racks in the U.S. laboratory module, Destiny. The next two months will see the world's first space archaeologists start to investigate a space habitat in close to real-time.