Introduction to Aerial Archaeology

A virtual view from Google Earth software one can definitively visualize what many satellite imagery and thermal images portray as aerial archaeology at a global prospectus. Aerial views of the earth from a higher advantage gives us various airborne images that can be used for screening archaeological sites that gives an idea about the ground surface below. These can be studied by various surface contours, soil coloring or shadow marks also called light-shadow contrasts. Aerial archaeology can be very productive in archaeological studies.

Many people ill conceive that this remotely viewed aerial archaeology is simply photography from an airplane flying over the Grand Canyon. These aerial photographs are only a small section of aerial archaeology. Archaeological purposes can be greatly enhanced from aerial distances. A 100-acre farm in the Midwest illustrates Oprah’s head carved from crop cuttings from several miles in our atmosphere. (Google Earth coordinates: Lat. 33.225488, Long. -111.5955) More serious studies can picture the exact geometric construction of the Great Pyramid of Khufu. (Lat. N 29.97869, N 29 58′ 43.3″; Long. E 31.13308) Specific structures such as ancient fortifications, cities and cemeteries can be identified easier from the higher remote positions. Landscapes and differences in soil can be studied illustrating more defined patterns that can be documented over various time periods using this type of archeology with remotely sensed imagery.

Another use of this is finding archeology sites still hidden in subsoil terrains. Ancient cites such as Harappa, an ancient Indus civilization dating almost 5,000 years ago are just now being excavated and remotely viewed by both archaeologist and satellite imagery specialist around the world. (Google Earth coordinates: Lat. 30.37’56.89 N, Long. 72..52’20.74 E) Many of these sites are in a very poor condition due to intensive agriculture and the exploitation of the local resources such as poor irrigation. Every year new construction such as highways uncovers these vanishing archaeological finds. To prevent this, the archaeologist tries to detect and document by aerial archaeology, aiming to protect them or at least to extract from them as much information as possible. This is called archaeological prospection and interpretation using both aerial and documented data.

A broad range of prospecting archaeological techniques has been developed. Each of these prospection techniques has different aims, methods, advantages and drawbacks. Aerial archaeology is one of the oldest prospection methods used. Aerial archaeology has proven to be very productive archeology and inexpensive compared to hands-on digging of archaeological sites. Unusual finds such as geoglyphs, lines or stones arranged in the earth’s surface and only “seen” from aerial viewpoints, can be found in all the major continents. Google offers great aerial views of these along with other global aerial archaeology.

It is important to combine the different prospection techniques thus enabling optimized results. Both abroad and stateside, archaeological sites use these practices of the combination of geophysical prospection with aerial archaeology. The aerial prospectus can be instrumental to present archeology and understanding our ancients.