UAVs for Site Documentation and Monitoring

Sunday, February 14, 2016: 10:00 AM-11:30 AM
Marshall Ballroom North (Marriott Wardman Park)
Morag Kersel, Depaul University, Chicago, IL
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (commonly referred to as drones) are powerful new tools used by archaeologists to document excavations, map landscapes, and identify buried features, but they can also be applied to monitor site destruction and looting. At the Early Bronze Age site of Fifa, an ancient cemetery on the Dead Sea Plain in Jordan, we are using drones to document changes in an archaeological landscape over the span of five years. The results from the first three seasons demonstrate that UAVs can provide quantifiable evidence of ongoing site damage in contexts where other remote sensing systems, like satellite images, have previously offered insufficient data. Our project reveals that looting continues at Fifa albeit at a reduced pace in contrast with earlier site destruction. Additionally, we have identified significant numbers of undamaged tombs that remain under threat and that are worthy of protection and further study. A comprehensive approach to such a landscape, which includes drones, ground truthing, ethnographic interviews, cooperative efforts with the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, and local NGOs, is key to safeguarding and recording what remains of this Early Bronze Age mortuary site.