Professor of Anthropology Robert (Bob) Anemone wanted a better way to identify just where mammal fossils have been found in the Great Divide Basin in Wyoming, so he and research fellows Jay Emerson, WMU geology professor, and Glenn Conroy of Washington University have been working on the idea for the past year or so.
Anemone just got back from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology conference in Las Vegas where he presented the results of his team’s research—training a computer to recognize fossil sites in satellite images.
Artificial intelligence and fossils?
No bones about it, a computer neural network has identified several places in the Basin where palaeontologists have unearthed mammal fossils, and Anemone is itching to use its predictions to explore further sites in the Great Divide Basin in Wyoming.
But how, exactly, does it work?
“We trained a neural network to identify the spectral signature of a series of known fossil localities in my research area in Wyoming based on Landsat 7 imagery,” says Anemone. “The goal was to develop a predictive model for locating additional fossil localities and post hoc accuracy testing of the model on known localities which were not utilized in the training suggested nearly 90% accuracy.”
As a direct result of this work, Anemone was invited to join an NSF-funded crew for fieldwork in South Africa this past summer; as a result of this fieldwork, “Jay [Emerson] and I are now working on applying our neural network approach to the job of finding fossil-bearing caves in South Africa that may contain evidence of early humans and their tools,” notes Anemone.
The team’s abstract about the research was one of 10 “featured abstracts” at the SVP conference, and as a result, they spent an afternoon talking with media representatives! Anemone is happy to report that the work has been very well received by colleagues in vertebrate paleontology and paleoanthropology, “several of whom told me at the meetings that they are interested in collaborating to try our approach in their research areas,” he said.
Anemone and his team have seen three manuscripts published on this work in the since July.
For more details on Anemone’s research, and to see what others are saying, follow the links below.