Equipment safety

Paleoimaging necessitates the use of varied technologies, including photographic, radiographic, and endoscopic equipment, as well as radiographic film. Supporting instruments, such as power transformers, are often required as well. When mounting a paleoimaging expedition into remote regions, it is imperative that the equipment arrive safely and in working order.

Transportation of the equipment within countries en route to field sites must be carefully considered. If the packaging for international travel has been well thought out, safe transportation within the host country should be accomplished without problems. It makes sense to travel in the same vehicle as the equipment whenever possible and to oversee its safe handling. It is imperative, however, to test the equipment when the team arrives at its destination.

The safe operation of the equipment cannot be overstated. The risk of electrical shock is a major concern when paleoimaging equipment has traveled many miles on unfriendly roads. Even if the equipment appears to be in working order, it still must be tested prior to use. In one such field expedition, the homeland security efforts of the United States were damaging to the paleoimaging equipment. The handheld push button exposure switch was disassembled and then reassembled incorrectly by the Transportation Security Agency personnel as the equipment made its way through the airport baggage area. The hand switch looked perfectly normal from the outside but the internal wiring had been inadvertently altered, rendering it inoperable. In a separate instance, an equipment case was dropped by the airport baggage personnel, resulting in a cracked, and therefore, nonfunctional internal circuit board, rendering the entire unit inoperable. In yet another instance, while repacking the equipment, security personnel failed to check if all electric connection cables had been packed inside the equipment case and closed the case lid on one of the cables, nearly severing that cable. The damage caused in these cases was out of the researcher's control, but they do underscore the need to carefully inspect and test the paleoimaging equipment following any out-of-hand period or mode of transportation.

Paleoimaging equipment operation by untrained persons can be damaging to the instrumentation. For example, extended exposure times can lead to overheating of the radiography equipment. Inappropriate flexion or extension of the fiber-optic endoscopy insertion tubes can lead to damaged and broken optical fibers. To avoid operator damage, experienced paleoimaging personnel must operate equipment used in field settings.

In most field settings, paleoimaging personnel must have a rudimentary understanding of the behavior of electricity and electrical wiring. Step-down transformers, gasoline-powered generators, power inverters, and batteries may all be employed in the field setting. Knowledge of necessary voltage, wattage, and amperage for the safe operation of the equipment is critical.

Safe function of the equipment depends on the environmental conditions as well. Paleoimaging equipment used for fieldwork should be rated for hostile conditions. Industrial, rather than medical, imaging technologies seem to function well in varied environments. Units rated for field hospital settings also have proved to work and hold up well. Climatic factors conducive to condensate formation and damp or flooded areas must be considered, as these conditions can create a shock hazard, potentially causing physical harm and rendering the equipment inoperable. Additionally, the impact of these conditions on the image receptors (film) must be considered.

Hazards associated with paleoimaging equipment include possible toxic inhalation if using chemistry to develop standard x-ray film in an enclosed darkroom. Carrying or moving the equipment can pose additional personal injury hazards as the equipment can be dropped on an extremity; or when trying to position the equipment, muscle injuries, cuts, and bruises can occur. Radiation safety will be discussed in some detail in Chapter 11 of this section.

Avoiding Physical Hazards Know the Prevalent Culture

Any fieldwork requires the participants to be aware of the prevalent cultural traditions in the location of the research. Knowing these traditions will promote personal safety in that the team of outsiders will be seen as having taken the effort to understand local traditions and customs. The support of the local community cannot be overstated. In some cases, your team may be one of the first, or the very first, outsiders the culture has interacted with. Great care must be taken to understand their greetings and other social protocols to avoid creating friction within the host community. Any friction could lead to disruption of your research efforts and, quite possibly, physical harm.

If your paleoimaging expedition is going to involve conducting research on mummified remains, it is imperative that the team understand the attitude of the current population to those remains. In many cases, there is a direct ancestral connection between the living and the mummified dead. Only by working cautiously and respecting those remains in the same manner as the resident people will the team be able to conduct their research; the team must also do so without breaking any cultural taboos.

Local Rituals Respecting local cultural customs and rituals is important in that not only may it lead to access to the remains but also, when sincerely appreciated, it establishes a base of mutual respect and often leads to unexpected and necessary cooperation. Some of the cultural rituals are designed simply to "cleanse" the scientists prior to study. Other rituals may be designed to communicate with the mummified ancestors in an attempt to explain what is going to be done, affording them the same respect one would give the living. In other cases, rituals are conducted to ascertain if the ancestors give their permission to be studied. We offer the following examples to illustrate a few local rituals tied directly to the study of the mummified remains of their ancestors.

The team may be required to go through a cleansing ceremony in order to prepare the researchers for their interaction with the ancestors. In Peru, when preparing to examine Inca or pre-Inca remains, cleansing and offering rituals typically conducted by a shaman involve offering of such items as llama fetuses, herbs, and plants, usually offered by burning the special items. The ceremony is conducted in Quechua, the language of the ancestors. In addition, coca leaves are either chewed or consumed in the form of a tea during the ceremony.

In other cases, animal sacrifices may need to be carried out with the livers of swine "read" by a local shaman to determine if you can even see the remains. When working with the Ibaloi culture in the village of Kabayan in the Kabayan jungle on the island of Luzon, the Philippines, a ceremony was held to determine if the ancestors, mummies housed in caves high in the jungle mountains, were willing to allow us to examine them. The Ibaloi ritual was steeped in tradition in which songs were chanted, red rice wine was shared, and three pigs were ritually sacrificed. The pigs were then opened, and the livers removed. The livers were "read" by a village shaman. If the livers were clean and free of disease, this was an indication that the ancestors viewed our presence favorably. A diseased liver would indicate that the ancestors would rather we did not conduct our research. Fortunately, in our case, the ancestors, through the livers of the pigs, welcomed us to their cave tombs. The remainders of the pigs were then cooked with the meat being shared with the entire village. We were also told it was taboo to bring the mummies out of the caves and that we were to conduct our study within the caves themselves. There were additional animal sacrifices and ritual drinking at the cave sites as well. The elder of the village spoke softly in Ibaloi to the mummies as we conducted our study. Nearly a dozen villagers whose function it was to monitor and record our activities, findings, and progress also accompanied us.

Still other cultures may require the team to pass a warrior's challenge prior to "meeting" the ancestors. In the remote village of Koke, in the Central Highlands of Papua New Guinea, the research team was met with a warrior's challenge, which demanded that the team members explain their intentions. Following this somewhat ceremonial yet serious ritual, the research team was introduced to the individual mummies in a manner that suggested that the mummies were still living and an active part of their daily lives. Any handling of the mummified remains was conducted ritualistically, with only certain selected individuals from the Koke village, typically descendents of the mummies, being allowed to handle the ancestors.

Each of these local traditions demonstrates different yet clear connections to the mummified remains, and each of the ceremonies may in fact carry with them inherent risks. During such ceremonies, the participants are required to drink varied concoctions brewed locally, and in the case of the warrior's challenge, actual arrows on a strung and drawn bow may be pointed directly at the team. The former may lead to biological hazards while the latter may clearly lead to physical harm.

Governmental and Political Culture Avoiding physical harm may also involve knowing the current political requirements and protocols necessary to conduct research in the host country. Adherence to governmental agency policies designed to oversee the anthropological and archaeological studies within the country need to be considered. Often, the paleoimaging aspect of a project is woven into the broader research proposal and is not often an issue. However, some of these policies may dictate who can do the work within that country and, at the very least, establish the individuals who will be responsible for monitoring the project. Many countries have long since realized that scientific studies involving their ancestral heritage need to be managed, and that the data from those studies have the positive potential to create tourism revenues for impoverished areas.

If work is to be done by individuals from the host country, they may not have the experience of more seasoned researchers, and the data collected may be lacking. Political posturing also may influence the decision regarding granting permission to conduct a study. Political agencies are made up of people, perhaps politicians, who may have other agendas.

With globalization brought on by technological advances, many countries are rapidly developing experts within their borders who are making wonderful contributions to the science and application of paleoimaging. Recall that the local or tribal political setting may be quite different from that of the national governing bodies. If a research expedition is being considered in any international setting, it is critical to be aware of and work within the regulations of the host countries.

Failure to adhere to the governmental or proper agency guidelines may lead to imprisonment or expulsion from the country, or both. Clearly, any potential incarceration must be avoided at all costs. Working with the proper agencies and individuals within those agencies helps ensure, but does not guarantee, safe research expeditions. Even if the team has followed all the agency rules and guidelines and possesses the necessary permits and documentation, the team may still be faced with barriers and, therefore, risks, at the local level.

Finally, regarding the current culture, each team member must be aware of the risks associated with each of the major cities or small villages they will visit. A working knowledge of the types of crimes and how prevalent those crimes are in a given locality can help guard against physical harm. City safety should always be practiced, that is, travel in groups, work with locals, avoid distractions, think "sober," be aware of your surroundings, and be aware of where you are. Although no one can predict a robbery or an assault, proper awareness of the current crime status in the area and region you are visiting or working in and preparation can reduce those possibilities, resulting in a reduced risk of physical harm.

It is also advised that each team member be aware of the current regional and local health-care and emergency response system. In many cases, it simply does not exist at locations where mummies are found. Regardless, whatever information is available regarding the local emergency system is critical in the preparation of a safe expedition.

Know the Ancient Culture

Paleoimaging requires that the researchers work very closely with the mummified remains. It is imperative that whenever possible, the team should be aware of how the remains were mummified, whether any chemical process was used, and whether any potentially sharp culture-specific artifacts are known to be associated with the remains. Although most of the concerns regarding how mummification was achieved fall into the category of biological hazards discussed later in this chapter, the team may be dealing with a mummification practice that employs sharp objects placed within the mummy or the mummy wrappings. Also, sharp objects present on the surface of the mummy may be obscured by centuries of dust. These objects, which may include edges of shells, metallic offerings, ceramics, pins, or obsidian edges, are capable of producing puncture wounds or cuts. In an attempt to decrease potential injury to any team member, awareness coupled with the careful external direct examination using a hand lens prior to approaching a particular mummy is highly recommended. Survey radiographs can also detect metallic or sharp stone objects not seen by the unaided eye, and an initial radiographic survey is a good practice standard.

In preparation for the expedition, knowing where the mummies are to be examined and how the mummies were interred is critical to conducting a safe paleoimaging expedition. Many cultures hold their mummified ancestors in caves, for example, the Ibaloi of the Kabayan jungle, or on cliff sides, for example, the Anga of Papua New Guinea and Chachapoya of Peru. Others, such as the Chiribaya of Peru, are buried in individual tombs below the surface of sand. Some cultures have elaborate tomb systems, for example, the Egyptians. Still others are held within crypts. Each of these burial settings carries with it associated risks. For example, cave mummies require the paleoimaging team to be prepared to travel to the caves with their equipment in tow. Depending on the cave location, getting there is often physically hazardous. Once at the cave, spelunking gear and skills may be required, adding still another layer of potential physical harm. Examining mummies housed on cliff sides carries with it obvious potential risks associated with mountaineering. Rappelling and technical climbing skills may be required for a safe research project. Shallow underground tombs may collapse under the weight of a team member, while more elaborate tombs may require support structure construction prior to beginning the paleoimaging project. The risks associated with dust and fungal inhalations associated with various burial environments will be discussed in the biological hazards section of this chapter.

Reviewing all previous research regarding the ancient culture under study may offer insight into the hazards and risks experienced by those who have been to the specific or nearby location. In addition to reviewing the literature, whenever possible it is quite useful to network with others who have had exposure to the mummified remains of the culture or experience in the given physical environment. It is necessary to prepare your team as much as possible to decrease the hazards of the expedition or to avoid repeating past mistakes made by others.

Know the Climatic Conditions and the Physical Environment

Even if a team member has traveled to your expedition destination in the past, the probable climatic conditions that may exist when your team arrives must be carefully considered. Many of the considerations are straightforward, such as the time of year your team will be arriving. This will dictate the necessary protective gear you will need to include. However, it would be shortsighted of the team to ignore the potential climatic changes brought on by such phenomena as El Niño, La Niña, and the regional impact of global warming. Global temperature and precipitation patterns continue to change, and what may have been a reliable seasonal climatic forecast 2 years ago may be totally different in a given particular season. The impact of rain and flooding cannot be overemphasized. The roads that carry you into a remote location may not be there to get you out. These sometimes dramatic changes in weather patterns can take the team unawares and may increase the inherent risks associated with travel by any means. The physical risks of falls, breaks, and cuts are all too real, not to mention the potential risk of a vehicle transporting the team sliding off a muddy road into a canyon or ravine.

We recommend that team members be trained in being sun-safe on all expeditions. An appropriate hat, sunscreen, and loose, light-colored clothing can all be used to provide protection in sunny environments. Each team member should also carry or have available two quarts of water. These containers should be filled at every possible opportunity. Each team member should be aware of the signs and symptoms of overexposure to temperature extremes. Heat stress may present itself as a rash, facial redness, and cold and clammy skin. The individual may not be able to sweat and may become nauseous. Additionally, the individual suffering from heat stress may also become confused or delirious and may become weak or lose coordination. Cold stress may present as frostbite, inflammation of extremities possibly leading to spasms and pain, etc. In extreme cold stress conditions, hypothermia may result. Proper preparation and clothing are crucial to the well-being of each team member.

The physical environment interacts with the climatic conditions as well. Consider an environment in which the ground consists mostly of clay. Although on a sunny, dry day it is perfectly safe to travel, add a little rain and the roads becomes slick as ice and treacherous. Each physical environment carries with it specific risks. Frozen tundra, mountainous regions, high altitudes, regions with known seismic activity, deserts, rain forests, coastal regions subject to tsunamis—each dictate unique considerations in regard to personal safety. Although it is impossible to plan for every eventuality, an enhanced awareness is the first step to not being caught off-guard by the environment and its relationship to possible climatic change. This awareness should in turn lead to careful planning and reduce the potential for the physical risks associated with those conditions.

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