I first came across the idea of using remote sensory in modern archeology a couple of years back. Specifically speaking, in Jurassic Park -- Dr. Grant was using a version of radar while excavating velociraptor skeletons -- but it wasn't until a few years ago during Dr. Albert Lin's search for Genghis Khan's tomb that I heard of it being used in actual archeological work.
Today a husband and wife team have used lidar (light detection and ranging) to help determine the length and breadth of the ancient Mayan city of Caracol, reputed to be one of the largest cities in the lowlands. While it certainly takes more of the romance out of archeology, the technology has the potential to be quite useful in future excavations. Especially in heavily forested areas across the globe. Does it replace actually digging in the dirt? No, but administrators are bound to love it.
The attached podcast has an interview with the husband and wife team, and you can read the accompanying article over at The New York Times' site.
Back when the fourth Indy movie came out, the history channel did a whole lot of shows on real life Indiana Jones'. In one of those programs I remember seeing something about NASA using satellites they had in orbit around the earth to take photographic images around the Yucatan. they used thermal imaging, and located all of the known archaeological sites(all of the pyramids and stuff). then using what they learned from those images they found a lost pyramid in the middle of the jungle. Its wickedly cool stuff. especially for those select few people in the world who enjoy the idea of archeaology, but can't seem to get away from our modern world. "close a door... open a window"
Does it replace actually digging in the dirt? No, but administrators are bound to love it.
Administrators are also going to love this.
Drones, or UAV's (that's Unmanned Ariel Vehicles), are all the rage these days. If the Federales aren't trying to fly one through the front door of your house while you're sleeping, then Amazon wants thousands of the things buzzing around your neighborhood like some perverse claw game. Some enterprising surf photographers are now using them to catch you dropping in at The Banzai Pipeline, and it's only a matter of time before some kidnapper snatches somebody's child with one. While you let that sink in for a moment, it has found more innocuous applications in the realms of biology and archeology.
War's Over. Surf's Up. Gringo's Welcome.
In the archeological space, the Peruvians seem to have taken to concept rather eagerly.
Originally Posted by CBC
With an archaeology budget of around $5 million, the Culture Ministry often struggles to protect Peru's more than 13,000 sites. Only around 2,500 of them have been properly marked off, according to the ministry.
"And when a site is not properly demarcated, it is illegally occupied, destroyed, wiped from the map," said Blanca Alva, an official with the ministry charged with oversight.
Steve Wernke, an archaeologist with Vanderbilt University exploring the shift from Incan to Spanish rule in the Andes, started looking into drones more than two years ago.
He tried out a drone package from a U.S. company that cost around $40,000. But after the small plane had problems flying in the thin air of the Andes, Wernke and his colleague, engineer Julie Adams, teamed up and built two drones for less than $2,000.
The drones continue to have altitude problems in the Andes, and Wernke and Adams now plan to make a drone blimp.
"There is an enormous democratization of the technology happening now," Wernke said, adding that do-it-yourself websites like DIYdrones.com have helped enthusiasts share information.
Archaeologists and other scientists who want to study the Earth from above are increasingly looking at drones as a research tool as the cost for unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, goes down. But the technology is hardly perfect, and there are legal hurdles, too.
"People who fly them for fun say it's not a question of if you'll crash it, but when and how badly," Casana said. He found that to be true in his trials. Hardware sometimes comes loose mid-flight and the software on the ground occasionally freezes, Casana said. He travels with replacement parts and backup systems like balloons and kites.
The pilotless aircraft have been employed to map remote Moche culture burial sites in Peru and construct 3-D images of Gallo-Roman ruins buried under Swiss highways. In at least one case, the small, remotely controlled craft have also located new, hard-to-reach rock art sites in the American Southwest.
"A whole set of technologies have come together over the past five to seven years that makes drones extremely attractive," said Austin "Chad" Hill, an archaeologist and drone pilot with the University of Connecticut who is assisting with Kersel's research. "You can attach magnetometers, barometers, GPS devices, and all sorts of cameras to these things. It gives you enormous amounts of useful data."
Hill displayed his drone piloting skills recently at a 6,500-year-old Copper Age site called Marj Rabba in northern Israel.
Using a Skywalker 1680 model plane that weighed about ten pounds, Hill launched the small aircraft by hand and flew it with a small, radio-controlled handset. An inexpensive pocket camera mounted in the drone's belly took thousands of near-infrared digital photos of surface vegetation, which would be analyzed for subtle differences in coloration to reveal underground buildings. (Grass growing on top of rock structures is often stunted, and appears to be a different hue in that range of the color spectrum.)