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Technology and the Face of Archaeology

How Technology is Changing the Face of Archaeology

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This week, Peruvian archaeologists announced plans to use mini remote control helicopters with high definition cameras to study and protect archaeological sites in Peru.  Through a partnership between the Catholic University of Peru and Harvard University, prototypes are now in use in San Jose de Moro where the new technology is being used to compile a complete and detailed record of the many archaeological sites in the region. 

The technology replaces countless hours spent by researchers on top of ladders taking photographs and guarding the precious ruins. One of the key roles of the helicopters will be to increase the security and protect the invaluable ruins which are under threat from the growth of agriculture, land trafficking, as well as criminal activity. In a recent example, a 5,000-year-old pyramid was decimated in Peru by two private building companies who claimed to own the state-run archaeological site at El Paraiso. It is hoped that the new remote control helicopters would prevent such irreversibly damaging acts from taking place and, at the very least, to catch those responsible.

But the addition of the mini helicopters is just one example of how technology is beginning to change the face of archaeology. Last month, Australian archaeologists used cutting edge remote-sensing technology to make the remarkable discovery in Cambodia of a 1,200-year-old lost city that predates the Angkor Wat temple complex.  The sensing technology, called Lidar, has opened up new and exciting possibilities for archaeological exploration by replacing 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.

Dramatic progress has also been made in nuclear physics and x-ray technology where new technology involving transportable instruments enables archaeological finds to be analysed in situ rather than having to remove them from the site and study them in a laboratory.  According to nuclear physicist , Professor Claudio Tuniz, advanced scientific technology in nuclear physics and x-rays have revealed more about palaeoanthropology in the last few years than in the hundred years prior.

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

By April Holloway

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