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An Interview with KCL Alumna Terry Madenholm: A Conversation on How Big the World Really Is

Terry Madenholm
© Kohann Tensen

 

Roar writer May Zaben interviews tech-archaeologist and King’s alumna Terry Madenholm, speaking to her about who she is, her connection to the aforementioned field, her lessons from KCL and some intriguing insights on 3D modelling and having a drone as a friend.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to deduce what the world is really like if we don’t understand it properly – if we don’t dig into it properly. One of the fields which eliminates this confusion and instead welcomes clarity is archaeology. In this field, we understand how big the world really is and how there is still so much yet to uncover. 

Roar:  I’d like to think every person has a unique, respective definition of what their work passion is. In that case, what does archaeology mean to you?

Terry: Archaeology has been my longest relationship so far. Besides being a scientific field, archaeology is also undeniably primal. You dig, you sweat, and you cover yourself in dirt, all in the name of science. You tell yourself that in archaeology, there’s no place for softies, yet sometimes you catch yourself with a teardrop (if you’re not dehydrated). Physical burnout, too-high expectations or perhaps the moment when you hold in your blistered hands that special object that awaited all these centuries to be brought back to light. That’s when the magic happens for me and when I get to travel in time. Hidden wonders each time make my heart jump.

R: In a world which often actively tries to repress the authentic self and thereby only encourages a collective, conforming voice, what do you do to avoid this in order for your own voice to be heard? 

T: I never spoke in one voice if something was against my convictions. I always had that as a rule. Even as a kid, I approached each case individually, which often has gotten me into trouble at school, so I can’t say it was my favourite environment. To be honest, there was not much I liked about school, and when I finally got to uni, I was happy to discover that debating was encouraged and individuality was valued.

R: I understand in addition to archaeology, you are also a model. In your perspective, have you ever noticed a correlation between these two careers? If yes, how?

T: I became a model at 21, at the time I was still a student. I wanted to be financially independent and finance my studies myself, so modelling seemed like a good idea. It was supposed to be only a brief adventure but it turned into a career. Despite that the two worlds are completely different, somehow archaeology and modelling work for now quite well together. Both require a lot of discipline, good shape, allow to travel and are open to different cultures.

© Kohann Tensen

R: In your 2022 interview with WeAreTechWomen, you talked about your being a project partner with Drone Archaeology and how your job “focuses on identifying threatened archaeological sites and building 3D models of endangered heritage”. What are the advantages of 3D modelling, and how does it help preserve these sites? 

T: Archaeology is an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary science, which makes it even more challenging and exciting. 3D modelling, which until recently mainly seemed an area of game developers, became an essential part of the field too, contributing to the study and safeguarding of sites. VR and AR technology are taking it to a whole new level by providing an immersive visualisation of the recreated ancient worlds with a high degree of precision. The exciting thing about it is that soon, anyone will be able to “visit” sites, even the ones in remote or hostile areas. Bringing the world into our homes is the future!  

R: As the world expands and develops in many ways, will archaeology remain tethered to the earth or will it, at some point, reach a new form of development?

T: Archaeology will eventually leave the blue planet and expand into the solar system. There is no doubt that just like the footprints left by our distant relatives about 3.66 million years ago at Laetoli, those of Neil Armstrong on the Moon will become relics of a distant past too. A fossil from the time when humankind was taking its first steps beyond Earth, marking our species’ first attempt to explore the universe. The orbital garbage we leave behind, the items left by the astronauts during their missions will be one day archaeologists’ playground, studying human activity in space.

R: The SAA (Society for American Archaeology) considers the trowel to be the most principal tool an archaeologist can own. What are the other tools that you own?  

Terry: My latest companion is a drone, slightly re-designed for archaeological purposes. A drone equipped with a high-resolution camera, combined with machine learning, is a powerful tool in identifying features. However, the hottest archaeological tools are satellite imagery and LiDAR, which I’m lucky to work with. The applications of these non-invasive technologies give a sense of a laser eye. To put things into context, let me tell you that like most archaeologists, I had the pleasure to put on my hiking shoes and do the traditional field walking, whose aim is to determine the potential archaeological significance of the land. But sometimes there are not enough clues present on the ground for us archaeologists to go on. That’s where satellite imagery and LiDAR come in. The use of satellite imagery helps detect valuable indicators of human past activity in often remote or conflict areas, while LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) creates 3D imagery of ancient remains, even the ones deeply buried in nature. The laser provides more data in a matter of hours than decades-long surveys.

R: During your time at King’s College London, was there anything you took with you that made you into the person you are today?

T: Friendships, great memories, and the degree of course!

R: As a KCL alumna, do you have any advice you’d like to share with the current KCL students? 

T: If you have time, do internships but most importantly, don’t forget to join societies! For me, the choice was simple because I love practicing sports, among others, horse riding.

It is discussions like this which foster a deeper comprehension of how broad our universe really is. If archaeology is the one field that allows us into this unique perspective, imagine the amount of visions other work passions can offer. To know the world is to, like Terry, bury oneself deep into its core, unafraid of removing the tiny lens and uncovering that real treasure. We, then, shouldn’t stay cooped up in holes. We should evolve, persevere, and lead on. 

To find out more about Terry Madenholm, check out her website: www.terrymadenholm.com.

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