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Using Pedatron to protect the past

SATRA technology is helping to preserve a prehistoric fossil site in Canada.

SATRA is currently working with Dr Jack Matthews, a research fellow from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and Memorial University of Newfoundland, to understand if foot traffic from visitors to the Mistaken Point UNESCO World Heritage Site in Newfoundland – Canada’s most easterly province – is wearing away the region’s fossils of international renown. Using footwear test equipment at SATRA’s main UK technical facility in Kettering, Dr Matthews is working with members of the SATRA team to replicate the impact of tourist footfall on ancient fossilised sea floors.

This work, which is funded by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, seeks to understand if visitors to the site are putting this geological heritage at risk, and how the situation can be managed. The SATRA STM 528 Pedatron biomechanical abrasion tester is being utilised to provide an accelerated wear simulation by imposing a true walking action over the siltstone rock with accurate motions, speeds and pressures. The site’s meteorological conditions are being replicated through regular spraying of the siltstone with water and the application of sediment collected from the site. The siltstone sample being tested has been selected from an area of Newfoundland that is exactly the same rock type, but does not contain fossils. These are protected by provincial legislation, and cannot be removed or damaged.

Harriet Mason of SATRA scanning the surface of the rock slab

Precise details of the rock slab’s surface were recorded with SATRA’s three-dimensional scanner before the test. It will be scanned again at the end of the assessment period in order to detect any changes to the surface caused by the experimental footfall erosion. The findings will be provided to the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador (which manages the site), and Dr Matthews will also publish the results in a scientific journal later this year.

“SATRA’s Pedatron offers a unique opportunity for scientists to understand the effects of footwear abrasion on sites such as Mistaken Point,” said Dr Matthews. “The results we gain from the experiment will impact the management of this site for years to come, as well as guiding other sites around the world in their geoconservation. I fully expect researchers from across heritage science, including historians, archaeologists, and geologists, to be using this technique in the near future.”

The photograph at the top of this page shows Dr Jack Matthews (left) and SATRA’s David Smith checking the siltstone sample mounted in a SATRA Pedatron biomechanical abrasion tester.

Publishing Data

This article was originally published on page 38 of the May 2019 issue of SATRA Bulletin.

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