Less Work, Better Results for Archaeological Mapping?

August 03, 2012
Blog Image

Can unmanned vehicles help speed up archaeological digs? That is the hope of Vanderbilt archaeologist Steven Werne and engineering professor Julie A. Adams. They have developed a product called SUAVe - for Semi-autonomous Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. Pronounced "SWAH-vey," this revolutionary product aims to greatly reduce the time it takes to create a three-dimensional model of a site versus using current technology. As in 10-15 minutes compared to two to three entire field seasons faster!

A small, unmanned aerial vehicle and a software system small enough to fit into a backpack capture the information. "You will unpack it, specify the area that you need it to cover and then launch it," Wernke says. "When it completes capturing the images, it lands and the images are downloaded, matched into a large mosaic, and transformed into a map."

Tests of the system are now underway over ruins in Peru. Tests are scheduled through mid-August at the abandoned Inca town of Mawchu Llacta. Built in the 1570s at a former Inca, Mawchu was abandoned in the 19th century. This remote settlement is more than a 45-minute hike from the nearest neighboring village. This new technology has the potential to allow archaeological sites to be catalogued very quickly, especially vital since many are being wiped away by development and time. "The SUAVe system should be a way to create a digital archival registry of archaeological sites before it's too late," says Wernke, as many are being wiped away by development and time.