10 application of LIDAR in archaeology


LiDAR technology is a relatively new development, and practical applications are continually discovered. Archaeologists are now using LiDAR to uncover previously hidden signs of civilization from the distant past. Below are some of the applications of LiDAR in archaeology.

1. Study of New England

One of the places that LiDAR is having a significant impact in is the archaeological study of New England. Today, New England is heavily forested, which makes it extremely difficult for archaeologists to get a better understanding of how the region looked in colonial times. During the 1700s, New England was covered with roads, farm walls, and homesteads, but after they were largely abandoned in the 1950s, the forests grew back. Through the use of LiDAR, however, archaeologists are now able to uncover more of this ‘lost’ New England of subsistence farming, something many people have no idea existed.

2. Uncovering of the Ancient Maya Buildings

LiDAR has been used to help researchers uncover ancient Maya buildings, roads, and other features of this civilization and even create a three-dimensional map of a Maya settlement in Belize. LiDAR has also been employed in order to get high-resolution models of Renaissance palaces, like the Salone dei Cinquecento in Florence Italy. In England, LiDAR is being used to discover new sites in the plains of Stonehenge.

3. Caracol Site

The Chases collected more topographical data in 10 hours using LiDAR than their ground expeditions had yielded over almost three decades of hacking through the jungle with a machete. Between 1983 and 2000, the archaeologists mapped around 7.7 square miles of the Caracol site. With LiDAR, the Chases mapped 77 square miles.

4. Stonehenge Site

Indeed, archaeologists around the world are beginning to embrace the same technique, flying aircraft over everything from Stonehenge (3) to Renaissance palaces to patches of scrub, in search of hidden treasures. The findings are already beginning to challenge conventional theories and change our view of the size and extent of ancient civilizations.

5. Mahendraparvata Site

Another breathtaking discovery, enabled using LiDAR, is the ruins of Mahendraparvata–a 1,200-year-old city in the Cambodian jungle. Australian archaeologist Damien Evans and his team surveyed a 143 square mile area, uncovering sprawling, highly structured settlements that would have remained hidden from satellite imaging or ground surveys by the jungle canopy.

6. Airborne LiDAR

Archaeologists have also used Airborne LiDAR owing to the fact that it is LiDAR launched from the air to investigate the surfaces of ground. This quality of LiDAR has played a fundamental role in establishing the exact location of features of the ground which helps archaeologists in identifying the various aspects of the surface.

7. Terrestrial LiDAR

Archaeologists have also previously relied on Terrestrial LiDAR to gain detailed scans of features on the ground. Terrestrial LiDAR plays an important role in mapping out the exact details of the features that occur on the earth’s surface and underneath. By understanding the details of the features on the earth surface, archaeologists use this information to predict the occurrence of past life on the surface. Terrestrial LiDAR usually involves the laser scanning of specific features such as monuments or buildings.

8. Bathymetric LiDAR

Bathymetric LiDAR is used to gain information from underwater. Archeologists rely on bathymetric LiDAR to collect data from beneath the surface of water bodies. This information gives them insights into the existence of life or fossils beneath the surface. In circumstances where the researchers do not have access to features such as shipwrecks and so on, Bathymetric LiDAR plays a very vital role.

9. Everglades

A recent study in the United States using LiDAR successfully documented ancient earthworks in the northern Everglades of Florida, using post-processing techniques to improve on previous usage of the same LiDAR. Using lower-resolution 2-m data, researchers were able to process the raw data with alternative software systems to eliminate some of the vegetation problems that were not resolved with originally available DEMs.

10. Study of the Hohokam

Another study in North America used LiDAR data in conjunction with archaeological data and a GIS platform to study the hydrology and agricultural practices of the prehistoric Hohokam in the American Southwest. Because of the three-dimensional points produced through LiDAR, it was possible to model the flow of water over the landscape and to demonstrate that prehistoric rock alignments were used to modify both the channel and surface flow of water.

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