Seeing beneath the soil to uncover the past

September 13, 2011

Archaeology is no longer just about digging holes. New research by a team led from the University of Leeds promises to improve the investigation of our heritage from the air.

The work should revolutionize the use of 'state-of-the-art' , improving the 'hit rate' of aerial archaeology without physically disturbing sites of .

Over half of the in the UK have been detected using aerial photographs. Heritage experts and researchers use these pictures to find where once obvious walls, tracks, ditches and pits are now buried by studying changes to crop growth or soil color.

However, this technique is difficult to use on heavy, clay-like soils because the dense makes it far harder to spot signs of the past. Even on well-drained soils, where the technique works best, many details of a settlement's layout will be missed.

The method used by the DART (Detection of Archaeological Residues using remote sensing Techniques) team promises to improve the hit rate from air-borne archaeological exploration, particularly on difficult-to-study soils like clay. The team is using sophisticated sensors - on the ground and in the air - to collect images at many different wavelengths, within and outside the . Once fully analysed, these 'hyper-spectral images' should reveal signs of soil disturbance that would otherwise be invisible.

Dr. Ant Beck, a University of Leeds research fellow and a key member of the Detection of Archaeological Residues using remote sensing Techniques (DART) project said:  "Our findings are leading to an improved understanding of detection techniques. In the future, our work will allow successful surveys to take place in landscapes where, at present, the physical and environmental factors have been difficult, to say the least. This work will transform archaeology, providing a better view of the archaeological residues under the soil without disturbing, and potentially damaging, sites of specific interest."

Initial work has been taking place in Cambridgeshire this year. Although it is still at an early stage, early analysis has confirmed that the hyperspectral images are revealing more information than standard of the same site.

"These early results are very encouraging," Dr. Beck said. "Further analysis should allow us to pinpoint the links between archaeological features, environmental dynamics and crop type leading to improved detection in, what have traditionally been considered, marginal landscapes."

Explore further: Ancient tombs discovered by Kingston University-led team

More information: Follow the progress of the DART project at: dartproject.info/WPBlog/

Related Stories

Ancient tombs discovered by Kingston University-led team

June 9, 2009

A prehistoric complex including two 6,000-year-old tombs representing some of the earliest monuments built in Britain has been discovered by a team led by a Kingston University archaeologist. Dr Helen Wickstead and her colleagues ...

A new henge discovered at Stonehenge

January 31, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- An archaeology team led by the University of Birmingham and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology in Austria discovered a major ceremonial monument less than ...

Aerial Imagery System Helps Save Water

September 15, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists are developing a system that saves water by using aerial imagery and ground-based sensors to determine the irrigation needs of small sections of cultivated fields.

Satellites help map soil carbon flux

March 25, 2008

Changes in soil carbon occur with changes in land management. Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and The University of Tennessee investigated quantifying soil carbon changes over large regions.

Recommended for you

Metacognition training boosts gen chem exam scores

October 20, 2017

It's a lesson in scholastic humility: You waltz into an exam, confident that you've got a good enough grip on the class material to swing an 80 percent or so, maybe a 90 if some of the questions go your way.

Scientists see order in complex patterns of river deltas

October 19, 2017

River deltas, with their intricate networks of waterways, coastal barrier islands, wetlands and estuaries, often appear to have been formed by random processes, but scientists at the University of California, Irvine and other ...

Six degrees of separation: Why it is a small world after all

October 19, 2017

It's a small world after all - and now science has explained why. A study conducted by the University of Leicester and KU Leuven, Belgium, examined how small worlds emerge spontaneously in all kinds of networks, including ...

Ancient DNA offers new view on saber-toothed cats' past

October 19, 2017

Researchers who've analyzed the complete mitochondrial genomes from ancient samples representing two species of saber-toothed cats have a new take on the animals' history over the last 50,000 years. The data suggest that ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.