3D forensic scan helps Feds catch vandals of ancient American Indian temple
The Nez Perce Indians of Idaho lived in the Pacific Northwest for many centuries before they bumped into Lewis and Clark in 1805. A peaceful tribe who lived mostly on the natural foods available in Idaho’s rivers, they probably never imagined they would one day use high definition scanning technology.
Fast-forward to February 2010.
In a small, little known rock shelter at a national park in Idaho, vandals used spray paint to deface ancient Nez Perce tribal pictographs, estimated to be some 2,500 years old. In addition to having both cultural and spiritual significance to the Nez Perce tribe, the rock shelter is located in a national park on federal land, which makes it a very serious crime.
Our firm, LandAir Surveying, worked with the Archaeological Damage Investigation and Assessment (ADIA), the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, and the FBI to assist in a federal investigation to prosecute the vandals and document the destruction.
This wasn’t your everyday survey.
Our crews packed up their gear and boarded a plane to Idaho. Then they rented a car and drove to an access point on the Snake River in Hells River Canyon, where a jet boat was waiting to take them to the crime scene. The ride down river was exciting and rigorous, and the drop-off point was a small piece of land in the middle of the wilderness.
The colors and materials used to create the ancient drawings made it very difficult to capture all of the detail in the pictographs. After multiple scans – using a combination of laser scanners and GPS – over two trips, our crew was able to collect enough data to create detailed images of the rock face, as well as the defaced pictographs themselves.
Once processed, the data was presented to the Nez Perce elders, many of whom were very angry as they were seeing the vandalism for the first time. When we returned, we created color drawings, digital files and spherical photography that was used to evaluate and document the damage.
But ultimately, just two years later, justice was theirs.
Two Idaho men were eventually arrested and prosecuted for willful injury or depredation of U.S. property and were sentenced this February to federal prison and fines of more than $33,000 each for defacing the pictographs. A third man is set for sentencing in June.
Tate Jones has over 40 years of experience in land and aerial surveying and was one of the country’s earliest adopters of 3D laser scanning technology. A nationally recognized expert in the field of 3D data capture, he has worked with hundreds of clients in the forensic engineering, law enforcement, criminal defense, architectural and construction industries. Contact him at tjones@3DForensicScans.com, a division of the LandAir Surveying company.
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