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Lidar - Discovery of Archaeological Sites

Lost archaeological sites rediscovered through new technology

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New technological advancements are revolutionising the field of archaeology.  It was not long ago that archaeologists had to battle through thick forests or clear away overgrown plants and shrubs to try to find building foundations and remains, often without success.  However, all that will soon be a thing of the past as new light detection and ranging technology (LiDAR) now enables scientists to identify relics from the air.  In fact , examination of scans using LiDAR of three New England towns have just revealed networks of old stone walls, building foundations, old roads, dams and other features, many of which were long forgotten.

New Englanders have long known about these relics of the agricultural past. But archaeologists Katherine Johnson and William Ouimet, her adviser and co-author, are now making use of LiDAR, which has proved useful in other places. 

LiDAR maps the surface of the ground below using laser pulses, and this makes it possible for researchers to look below tree cover.  Last year, the technology revealed surprising new features at Angkor , as well as 1,200-year-old lost city that predates the Angkor Wat temple complex.

The technology has opened up new and exciting possibilities for archaeological exploration.  A village called Anlong Thom sat in the middle of the 1,200-year-old lost city, but not one of the 1200 villagers had realised its existence.  Now the technology replaces the need for explorers and researchers to aimlessly hack their way through dense jungles. Instead they are led directly to sites of significance through the aerial mapping technology.

In the new study, Johnson and Ouimet focused on parts of three rural towns.  In the scans, stone walls showed up as thin linear ridges, forming enclosures that were likely once fields, lining old thoroughfares, and clustering around the foundations at the heart of old farmsteads.

"On a historical map, you might see just one dot, and a person's name representing a farmstead, but if you compare that with the LiDAR you might see all of the buildings, in addition to the layout, and the fields, and the road leading to it," said Johnson. Sometimes the past lives on in the modern landscape.

Archaeology has reached an exciting and rapidly progressing period in which mysteries of our past are fast emerging and new knowledge about our ancient origins is finally getting pieced together.

By April Holloway

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