A new area of archaeological technology so fascinates me that I’m thinking of writing a novel based on it. I’m only at a vague stage of conceiving the novel but I’d like to write about what I’ve discovered in this blog. I’m talking about drones and satellites.
Remote sensing is the process of detecting and monitoring the physical characteristics of an area by measuring its reflected and emitted radiation at a distance. (This can be done from a satellite or aircraft). Technologically advanced cameras collect remotely sensed images, which help researchers "sense" things about the Earth.
Satellite images help scientists find and map long-lost rivers, roads, and cities, and discern archaeological features in conflict zones too dangerous to visit. England, luckily, isn’t one of those tormented areas, but has a fair share of DMVs (Deserted Medieval Villages) that were abandoned owing to enclosures, famines, disease etc.
Satellite archaeology is an emerging field of archaeology that uses high resolution satellites with thermal and infrared capabilities to pinpoint potential sites of interest in the earth around a meter or so in depth. Obviously, satellite images can be used to detect, to acquire an inventory, and to prioritise archaeological information in a rapid, accurate, and quantified manner. Years of old-style field walking could actually miss what is obvious from the air, although an expert who knows what he’s looking for can still produce ground-level revelations.
One of the newest archaeological aids is the drone. Drones provide a useful low-level aerial platform for recording historic buildings, monuments, archaeological sites and landscapes. They can carry a wide variety of sensors including cameras, multi/hyperspectral imaging units, and even laser scanners. This technology is clearly beyond the means of the amateur enthusiast, but a drone fitted with a camcorder is attainable and will allow sleuthing even with a modest expenditure.
Many academic papers have been written in recent years about this technology. Readers here might be interested in a book that I’m happy to recommend that contains reference to several positive technological experiences including drones: Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History edited by Helena Hamerow.
Moving my focus away from Britain, archaeologists have discovered 500 previously unknown Mesoamerican sites in Mexico hidden in plain sight using laser technology.
Using laser pulses tied to a GPS system, LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging, or LiDAR, technology) took topographical readings to create a three-dimensional map of a 30,000-square-mile area around eastern Tabasco. When archaeologists analysed the data, they found evidence of 478 sites that would have been part of precolonial settlements between about 1400 B.C. and 1000 A.D.
“The study foreshadows the future for archaeology as LiDAR reveals ancient architecture at an unprecedented scale that will reach into remote and heavily vegetated regions the world over,” Robert Rosenswig, an archaeologist at the University of Albany-SUNY, wrote in an accompanying article for Nature, calling LiDAR “revolutionary for archaeology.”
Returning to the U.K., an aerial mapping project conducted by the National Trust on the Wallington Estate in Northumberland, England, just uncovered 120 new archaeological features. The organization began the project to help draw up plans for planting 75,000 British native trees on the 13-hectare estate. (The trust aims to plant 20 million trees by 2030 to help combat climate change.) Creating a 3D digital map of the landscape allowed the trust to identify the site of historic woodlands that had been cleared in the mid-18th century, as well as former farming systems. The oldest prehistoric sites on the state identified through the LiDAR scans date back to as early as 2000 B.C.
As I mentioned above, there are many academic papers relating to a vast amount of new information about our hidden past. Unfortunately, I cannot reproduce the aerial images here as they are all copyrighted, but many of the said articles contain them. I find it fascinating and hope that my research might lead me to write a gripping new archaeological-historical novel. Who knows?