University of Leicester to explore the potential use of drones in archaeology

By Culture24 Reporter | 13 August 2014

How could drones help archaeologists better understand the heritage landscape? A new project at the University of Leicester is about to try and find out

a photo of small black unmanned plane with two propellers
Front view of the InView Unmanned Aircraft in flight© 04/06/2010 By JoeB52 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Whether in conflict zones or as a means of delivering your latest Amazon purchase, the use of drones – otherwise known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – is still a topic of controversy and debate.

A team from the University of Leicester is about to investigate their potential in a more benign way: the advancement of our understanding of heritage landscapes.

Using novel Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) techniques from the platform of a UAV, researchers hope to investigate previously inaccessible sites in a bid to better understand them and to explore the different ways drones can support the work of archaeologists. 

The work, which is part of a new partnership between the university and the Loughborough-based software and geo-solutions company Sterling Geo, will be explored by archaeologist and research student Mark Collins.

Stirling Geo has years of experience in the Geophysical ground surveys business, geo-imaging software and satellite data products for a range of uses from military to mineral extraction. They are currently working with Ordnance Survey to provide their entire catalogue of mapping and data products to clients.

Collins, who graduated with a BA in archaeology, will be looking at innovative technologies and the various uses of UAV platforms.

“My interests particularly lie in researching prehistoric landscapes in order to better understand how people have been using space and creating places over time,” he says.

“New technologies and techniques, like the GPR, that can potentially be used to investigate previously inaccessible sites, are an exciting development that I’m pleased to be involved with.”

Mark has access to several testing grounds, including the site of a Roman villa that the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History are currently working on and an area of extensive peat bog-land of interest to the Geography Department.

Drones have been used in archaeology for some time, notably for the launching of thermal image cameras to help reveal the stones of ancient buildings buried beneath the earth or as an alternative to manned flights in the creation of 3-d maps and imagery. Their use for geo-physical surveys, however, is relatively new. 

Ed Lamb, of the university’s G-STEP project, which assisted with the project's organisation, said he believed research is increasingly important as UAVs become used “more frequently" and "in a broader range of applications".

Updates on the progress of the research will be published throughout the course of the year-long project, which has been funded through the European Regional Development Fund.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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