by John F. Doershuk, University of Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist
OSA’s Director of Research Technology, Mary De La Garza, is into drones, technically known as “uncrewed aerial vehicles” or UAVs. Mary, a licensed FAA UAV pilot, now commands a fleet of three drones and two additional OSA staff members have, or will soon earn, their UAV pilot licenses. As OSA uses these drones in our university work as a statewide research center, we follow University of Iowa policy regarding UAVs and part of Mary’s duties is responsibility for OSA compliance in our drone work.
Using Drones in Archaeology
The FLIR thermal imaging camera has really interesting potential in archaeology. It has often been observed that vegetation grows differentially above or near different types of subterranean archaeological features such as stone walls, earth lodge depressions, historic foundations, and large middens. These growth differentials can sometimes be detected at ground level, but a drone perspective can really make these evident. Thermal imaging, reacting to temperature differences in soil and vegetation caused by differential moisture content, can be used to spot buried archaeological features even in the absence of surface differences noticeable to the human eye.
As tricky as flying the drones can be when weather conditions aren’t ideal, Mary reports her team’s expertise really comes to the fore in processing the data collected by these cameras. Using programs like Pix4D and AgiSoft to stitch imagery into 3D models and analyzing thermal band data to reveal archaeological features takes patience, experience, and skill! Mary is particularly interested in archaeological uses for her drones but is available to explore use for any sort of construction, compliance, or agricultural project. Contact Mary at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in utilizing OSA UAV expertise!