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  • Writer's pictureTyesha Ferron

Drones Prove Their Historical Value in Digital Archaeology

Photo Credit: Wix Stock Library

The world around us is adapting to the popularity and convenience of drones, and with good reason. Drones provide advantages that cement their usefulness, which forecasts their increased presence in the future. With this is mind, have you ever wondered what drones could tell us about our past? With the advent of Digital Archaeology, research methods are being revolutionized by UAV technology. Currently, more researchers are using drones to collect valuable information about human history.

One of the primary roles that drones play in archaeology is 3D Mapping. Earlier this month, Jason Daley with the Smithsonian published an article about the results of a drone survey over Canna and Sanday, two remote Scottish Islands. While flying over the areas, the drone was able to capture "420 million data points", which were then used to create a highly-detailed map of the islands. The survey was performed by GeoGeo, a mapping firm based in Glasgow, and their founder Paul Georgie revealed to the National Trust for Scotland that their survey was "the world’s largest complete island dataset captured by drone." This was an amazing feat, and the information that this data provides will make excavations in the area more efficient, preserving more of the natural landscape.

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Furthermore, efficiency and preservation are the driving forces behind Aerial Digital Archaeology & Preservation's support for drones in the field. ADAP (at is an independent research group that provides professional archaeologists, anthropologists, geologists, etc. non-invasive technology to research with. This most notably includes drones. Founded in 2013 by Benoit Duverneuil, consists of technologists, explorers and specialists in communication, and as stated in their name, their main goal is preservation. On their About page, part of their mission is “to promote the increase and the adoption of aerial and digital archaeology techniques and knowledge in the Americas.”

In 2017, DroneDeploy reported that the founder of ADAP and three members of his team “embarked on a project to record three endangered sites in the Cotopaxi Province of Ecuador” in an effort to prove the efficiency of drone mapping archaeological sites. Using a DJI Inspire and DroneDeploy software, ADAP was able to capture high-quality images of the site and produce a map made of the drone's composited images, elevation data and a high-resolution 3D model. They were able to do all of this in a matter of several hours, a fraction of the time it would have taken with traditional methods and without disturbing ancient artifacts or excavation sites.

If you're interested in learning more about drones being used in the field of Archaeology, check out The Digital Archaeological Record's collection of documents on the Archaeological applications of drones.


I am a writer and an artist based in Georgia. Specializing in illustration, graphic design, and video art, I love to explore the new ways technology intersects with art. I think drones have done amazing things for photography and video art, making what would previously be costly and difficult more accessible. As a complete novice, it was only recently that I saw what independent artists could do with their drones, and I continue to be impressed by the sights that drones are able to explore and the images they can capture. Instagram: @tyesha.ferron

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