Dr. Ur- Drone Photography and Photogrammetry
Students and staff at the Berry Site were excited to welcome Dr. Jason Ur to the 2019 Field School. Dr. Ur, a Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University, specializes in landscape archeology. His archaeological work is usually done without a shovel or a trowel as he produces maps on a massive scale, sometimes involving surveys of hundreds of square miles of land. Dr. Ur tries to answer the big-picture questions, such as how people changed their landscape. These massive surveys search for ancient canals, roads, burial mounds, and other clues that provide insight into the lives and cultural values of the people who once lived in these ancient settlements.
Traditionally, archaeological maps that archaeologists such as Dr. Ur prepare have relied upon three methods: satellite imagery, released spy photos, and ground surveying. There are advantages and disadvantages to all three.
Satellite imagery is the most popular method because it is not labor intensive and can cover a large area. However, satellite photos are very expensive to buy, even more so if the satellite must be commissioned to perform a flyover of the site.
A more accessible method is spy plane photography. Released government photos from spy planes provide an inexpensive birds eye view of the ground. While cost is not an issue with this tactic, archaeologists have found that these images tend to focus more on military installations rather than archeological features. Unless a spy plane happened to be recording an archaeological site between military installations, then there is almost no chance that they took relevant photographs of any archaeological sites.
The most familiar technique is ground surveying, which always must be performed. It is often performed in conjunction with other methods. With ground surveying, archaeologists trek across the ground, marking geologic and human-made features on maps. The process is labor-intensive and time-consuming but it is extremely accurate and vital to understanding and helping to date the features and sites within the region.
While these three techniques are staples of modern archaeology, archaeologists are always looking for even better techniques and strategies. New advances in technology have revolutionized the site-mapping process, providing a cheaper and more efficient system than any of the more traditional methods. Dr. Ur visited the Berry Site to discuss and demonstrate an exciting and innovative new system: drone photography and photogrammetry.
Drone photography could be the key to mapping large areas quickly and inexpensively, which is crucial for sites that are operating on grants and donations. For instance, Dr. Ur didn’t need to go through the expense and process of contacting officials to attain a satellite fly-over. Dr. Ur only needed a camera-equipped drone to take photographs, and an iPad to see the feed from the drone camera. While these items are not exactly cheap, they are inexpensive compared to the costs of commissioning a fly-over of a satellite.
Drone photography is helpful to archaeologists in several ways: multiple, detailed photographs of the archaeological site are made, along with a record of the GPS coordinates of each photo. The archaeologists can input the photos and their locations into a computer software program which then “stitches” them together into a 3D image of the site with accurate lengths, widths and depths. This method is called photogrammetry.The detailed 3D images are helpful to archaeologists and laypeople to visualize and understand the site. The photographs and GPS coordinates are also very useful to the archaeologists when it comes time to actually excavate the site.
Technological development in the field of landscape archaeology will revolutionize the way that archaeologists view sites and their surrounding landscapes while also providing the public with a glimpse of bygone societies. The Exploring Joara Foundation extends its deepest gratitude to Dr. Ur for his work at the Berry Site and the significant impact that his work will have in increasing public understanding of the Native American town of Joara and Fort San Juan as well as assisting archaeologists in future exploration of the site.