Doing Good

Discovering New Dig Sites with Drone Technology

March 31, 2020

Archaeology is historically a technology-resistant industry, with surveying and processing methods remaining virtually the same since the profession emerged. Drone technology aims to change this tradition by providing data-heavy, precise maps and photogrammetry so workers on the ground can identify new dig sites, potsherds, and other relics. Not only does this save time spent on fieldwalking, but it also saves money by keeping expensive excavation costs low. Information garnered from drone data is leading to advancements in this field and changing the way we think about how ancient civilizations lived.


Setting a New Standard

Pre-drones, archaeologists performed “pedestrian surveying” to find artifacts pushed to the surface of the ground. To do this, workers stood in parallel lines and walked up and down the selected area, looking for potsherds (i.e. broken pieces of ceramics). This is a long, tedious process, and is highly subject to human error. Yet currently, this is how the vast majority of excavations are done.

A study done by the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge and published in the Journal of Archaeological Science found that drone surveying is faster and more efficient than the manual methods described above. While a small site regularly takes a minimum of 3 days to record, a drone can perform this task in minutes or hours. Coupled with machine learning, AI algorithms, or Terrain Awareness, archaeologists can nearly automate the excavation process.


How it Works

The most common use of drone software employed by archaeologists is multispectral imagery. Using tools like DroneDeploy’s Thermal Live Map or Plant Health Live Map, users get an aerial look at their site in real-time, regardless of their physical location. This map is also namedly infused with thermal data, which is used to pinpoint areas of interest. Since this imagery can penetrate the ground, it identifies objects buried beneath the surface - which are often warmer than the soil surrounding. This bird’s-eye view also spots where vegetation is growing differently, which is a key tell for buried artifacts.


An archaeological team in Arizona is using their drone data to build 3D models of Hohokam villages. The 700 images they gathered, stitched together by drone technology, will be displayed in the Arizona State Museum and used to further research how these Prehistoric people lived. Since excavation is such an expensive and destructive process, photogrammetry like this benefits users with on-demand, quick documentation to make better-informed decisions. Further, Annotations features can be deployed in-app to evaluate new data and share across teams or stakeholders with a push of a button.


Significant Discoveries

In 2018, archaeologists in Peru discovered 50 new Nazca lines hiding in plain sight. While these lines weren’t visible with satellite imagery, they were almost immediately identifiable by drone technology, within a half-inch mark. Drone software isn’t just pertinent for new sites either - in 2016, a massive 30,000 square-foot platform was discovered under the sand in Petra, a site that’s been excavated for over 200 years. Even still, it’s not always archaeologists making these discoveries - such as when a 4,500-year-old henge was found in Ireland in 2018 by a drone hobbyist.

Drone technology is modernizing the archaeology profession, but no matter your career, drone software can optimize your business processes. With simple, in-app solutions for inspections, mapping, and data sharing across industries, your organization saves valuable time and resources. Interested in learning more? Read some of our customer success stories or start a free trial.

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