New technology and archaeological practice. Improving the primary archaeological recording process in excavation by means of UAS photogrammetry

Publication date: January 2019

Source: Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 101

Author(s): Jitte Waagen


In the last decade, archaeological fieldwork has seen the increasing use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs, also: drones) and photogrammetrical techniques as tools for mapping archaeological traces in two and three dimensions. Drones allow for great control over the collection of imagery and in combination with photogrammetry put airborne 3D data capture at the disposal of archaeologists, whether they are dealing with excavations, monuments, or complete landscapes. The success of applying any new tool must however be judged in the end by a careful assessment of its tangible improvements of the primary data collection process considering expended project resources. In this context, it is important to point out that the added value of producing, often still laborious, 3D models for the primary process of data collection in field archaeology is not yet completely self-evident. Although 3D recording may be a useful additional layer of documentation for those who can afford it, the question remains to what degree the time, equipment and personnel investment actually improves our capabilities of doing archaeology. In this paper, I propose a new, well-defined, transparent and standardized mapping approach based on the combination of a budget UAS and straightforward photogrammetrical techniques, fully embedded in the workflow of knowledge production in archaeological excavation. I will reflect on the future potential of this approach, as well as engage with the ongoing discussion about developments in the processes of documentation and interpretation.