Archaeology may be the study of dead things, but it’s far from a dying field. Advances in technology are helping archaeologists better discover and identify ancient sites, and can even provide ways to see through the ground without digging! Here’s just 5 of the new technologies that are helping archaeologists change the world:
Aerial photography used to be prohibitively expensive. If you couldn’t afford a proper helicopter and cameraman, an archaeologist had to resort to kites, helium balloons, model planes – or even balancing a ladder on top of a Land Rover. Now, unmanned aerial vehicles are more affordable and accessible than ever. You can find lots of drones under 500 dollars at yourdroneshq.com.
Drones aren’t just an easy way to get overhead shots of a site. They can be used to take photographs in low light and bad weather conditions. But perhaps their most exciting application is that they can mimic LIDAR and construct 3D models of what degraded ruins might have looked like using some pretty standard software packages. Soon LIDAR will probably be mounted directly onto the UAV! Drones are becoming a must-have for any serious archaeologist, so don’t miss out on affordable beginner and professional options.
2. Google Earth
Satellite imagery – of which Google Earth is obviously the most readily available – makes it possible to zoom into remote areas of the world from the comfort of your home office. Google makes it easy to spot enclosures or settlement mounds which can help draw attention to archaeological finds. No more waiting for expensive aerial photographs to develop – Google Earth is ubiquitous, free, and easy to use.
3. Ground penetrating radar
Ground penetrating radar has an understandably mixed reputation in the archaeological community. In the 1980s it was advertised as the answer to all our problems. The idea is fairly simple: use radar pulses to image the ground, allowing you to identify historical artifacts or ruins without even having to dig. But the technology is infamous for turning up false positives – that is, until more modern software made visualization much more reliable. Some folks still don’t trust the technology and prefer using drone imaging or LIDAR, but ground penetrating radar has the advantage of working through hard surfaces and in confined spaces, making it essential tech even in the 21st century.
LIDAR (short for Light Detection And Ranging) delivered on the promise of ground penetrating radar by using laser beams and an inertia measurement system to produce detailed 3D maps of the Earth’s surface. The cost of LIDAR – which has to be used from an airplane – makes it much less accessible than drone technology, but it’s arguably the best way to identify surface traces that may indicate something buried beneath the dirt. LIDAR can also see through vegetation, which was a problem with the previous hachure method.
5. Shallow geophysics
There are a number of geophysical techniques which, like low-tech LIDAR, can help locate potential dig sites. Magnetic surveys can be used to detect the traces of bacteria in the soil and help find dig sites hidden under the ground, and has proven especially useful in Egypt. Soil resistivity uncovers differences in soil moisture 1.5 meters in depth. These methods are typically slow and not useful in every situation, but they’re still an important technological tool in an archaeologist’s arsenal.
All of these technological tools are very useful and not to be overlooked, from the essential use of drones to the high-tech promise of LIDAR. For more essential information on all things research, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter!