Drones: Archaeology’s Newest Tool

As we have been discussing preservation of archaeological sites and artifacts lately in class, I figured this article was quite fitting.   This article published by National Geographic talks about the new use of small drones that archaeologists have been using to document different sites.  Archaeologists have been using small electronic drones with simple point-and-shoot cameras attached to them in order to take pictures of the different sites.  The cameras are able to shoot near-infrared photos that document vegetation, nooks and crannies at each site.  They can use these photos to evaluate the looting activity that occurs at many of these sites in Jordan.

According to the article, a lot of extra looting started after the Jordanian conflict.  Specialists say that many of the looters are actually nearby farmers or children, who are trying to earn some more money in the poor economy.  There has been evidence that suggests that looters are actually revisiting old dig sites that had been previously looted.  This shows that the “easy-pickings” are all gone and people must look deeper to find more artifacts.

As in class, we learn how detrimental this can be to the field of archaeology.  Once removed from their context, material culture loses its value and meaning.  One specialist mentioned how many of the articles show up on Ebay, as we saw in class.  These artifacts are usually mislabeled and wrongly named.  Once bought, the artifact may be lost forever.

I find it particularly interesting that the advancement of technology has allowed for hard scientists to assemble and use drones for their own purposes.  When one thinks of a drone, they imagine large, quick aircrafts.  Yet according to this article, these drones are smaller vehicles that can be controlled with remotes.  I cannot help but imagine a small model helicopter with a camera attached.  The fact that such simple technology can be so helpful in a field like archaeology is so intriguing.

4 thoughts on “Drones: Archaeology’s Newest Tool

  1. This was an interesting article write up! It is confusing because when we imagine drones it is easy to picture the types of high-tech military aircraft that our government has been using lately, and it is a quick association that drones are something to be feared, a type of big-brother spying on us in our daily lives putting foreign materials in the air. However this type of drone is much more harmless. I like the fact that archaeology can put drones to good use in discovering and monitoring sites.
    However, something that might be more appealing as to solving the problem of locals stealing from sites for quick cash and ultimately detracting from the base of human knowledge in the process is probably to let them know how serious it is what they are doing. Perhaps archaeologists should have less of an alert system (although that is necessary now) and have a public service announcement movement that when people steal from sites they are stealing from our entire species and robbing us eternally of knowledge of our ancestors, and that even by moving it this is done. Archaeologists should get the public to know the significance of context and let them see artifacts in a light other than just quick cash if they want their sites to stop being looted.

  2. I find it very interesting that you chose this topic, because I did too! It must mean that it is common in the news and may be taking a larger effect in the archaeological world than we may believe. I think it is very useful for them to use the drones to identify the looted areas, and possible even who is looting in those sections. It is surprising that the farmers and children are looting for money. It is a very sad thing to understand and a difficult one at that. I am curious as to how much money it actually brings in because they are unsure of what they are finding in the first place. Further, something very important and significant to history could be somewhere mis-labeled on Ebay or Amazon somewhere.

    Also, I think it is very surprising that drones were introduced in the archaeological world because the first thing that comes to mind when someone says drone is the military. I am curious as to what the archaeologists do when they find the specific areas that have been looted. It is essential to find what areas are being investigated by strangers but once that is done, do they block it off? I wonder how many people would actually follow the rules if they were in need of money that direly. Although the final answer is unknown to me, I think drones are having a strong beneficial impact on archaeological sites that are being looted.

  3. This was a very good article and how you talked about it. I think drones will absolutely be the future of archaeology in conflict zones. You are still able to gather some information on artifacts, but without endangering human life. There have been many great improvements in technology, which should help archaeologist gather more data in these conflict zones. Like you mentioned, the risk of losing the artifacts permanently is a great risk, especially due to looting and then selling them through various methods. Once an artifact is removed from its context it loses most of it’s meaning within the site, and if it does get looted and sold then it is very difficult to track down and could be lost forever. Also, most people do not know what these objects are some of which could be very rare and offer clues for our history. It will definitely be interesting to see how the role of drones factors into the future of archaeology. I believe that they are essential to the future and should be used extensively in conflict zones. They can record vast amounts of data, without placing any humans in harms way. This was a very good article and your thoughts were very enlightening.

  4. I too found this article interesting and I always wanted to know a little more about drone use in the field of archaeology ever since they were shown to us in lecture earlier this semester. I didn’t know that drones could be used to detect looting. It sounds like these drones can be very versatile and allow archaeologists to document sites with greater detail. When I think of a drone I think of a military drone, but it sounds like the drones used in archaeology are really quite simple. I guess this is a good thing because very complex drones would be extremely expensive.

    I think it is great the new technology has helped with conflicts like you mentioned in Jordan. It is a shame that so many artifacts are being sold on Ebay and being stripped of their archaeological context. Hopefully with these drones, looters will be deterred from stealing in the future. This article tied in perfectly with what we were talking about in class about protecting cultural heritage, and this article is a great example of it. It will be interesting to see what else can be mounted to a drone in order to help archaeologists document and protect sites.

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