DePaul University Archaeologist Promotes UAV Use for Site Documentation, Monitoring

During a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Morag M. Kersel, an assistant professor of anthropology at DePaul University, recently explained how unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are important new tools for archeology.

“Drones are proving to be powerful new tools to archaeologists for documenting excavation, mapping landscapes and identifying buried features,” Kersel said. “They also can be applied to monitor site destruction and looting in the present.”

Kersel is a co-director of the Galilee Prehistory Project and the Follow the Pots Project, following the movement of Early Bronze Age pots from the Dead Sea Plain in Jordan. Her presentation, “UAVs for Site Documentation and Monitoring,” was part of a session that examined the protection of cultural heritage sites and artifacts.

“Three seasons of monitoring at Fifa have demonstrated that UAVs can provide quantifiable evidence for the rate of ongoing site damage – even in contexts where other remote sensing systems would provide insufficient data,” she asserted.

For years, archaeologists have been using satellite images to quantify the number of looted graves. Kersel says that after comparing satellite images with the lunar-like landscape of Fifa, the team had the idea to use drones to obtain data with higher resolution from specific, targeted areas.

On Feb. 14, Kersel and colleague Austin Hill of the University of Connecticut used a small, fixed-wing plane equipped with a Canon camera and a GoPro, as well as DJI rotary-wing platforms, to both document looting and destruction at Fifa and generate spatial data for digital mapping.

Kersel adds, “This research reinforces the power of drones in site monitoring and documentation as part of future protection strategies.”


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