Using Drones in Archeology – An Omani Case Study

Now available to read/download, senseFly’s latest case study digs into ongoing research by the French Archaeological Mission to Adam, which earlier this year employed unmanned eBee drones for the very first time. The result? A lot of time saved and the identification of never-before-found structures that might otherwise have remained undiscovered.

Julien Guery is the founder of JMMG Consulting and an independent scientific consultant who specialises in geoarchaeology and geomorphology. It was Julien who operated the Omani project’s eBees, having reached an agreement with the director of the French Archaeological Mission to Adam (MAFA), Guillaume Gernez, in mid-2014.

We caught up with Julien for a short chat about the project’s results (download the full case study at the end of this article).

Using_Drones_in_Archeology_Planning Julien Guery planning drone flights during MAFA’s early 2015 project.

Hi Julien. Could you summarise what drones brought to the MAFA project? What were the goals the team had and to what extent were these goals met?

Sure. The use of drones gave the team access to high-resolution, accurate and low-cost datasets of what are complex-to-prospect environments. This data highlighted unsuspected archaeological remains and efficiently completed the existing GIS datasets that the team had acquired on previous missions.

The first purpose of using the goals was just to produce high-resolution images of specific, known sites. However the final result was a complete and larger than expected 3D mapping dataset, which enabled scientific documentation and 3D visualisations of the sites to be produced through accurate photogrammetric outputs.

Using_Drones_in_Archeology_Graveyards Protohistoric graveyards in Adam South, central Oman. Many were identified for the first time, despite the presence of erosion, thanks to MAFA’s drone-sourced digital surface model. (Credit: Guillaume Gernez, MAFA.)

Having had time now to digest the result of the project, what potential do you see for the future use of drones in archaeology?

Archaeologists are dealing with larger areas of study, crossing the borders of their sites to connect them with others and study their interactions, focusing on land occupation and environment evolutions. As such there is a need for efficient mapping solutions that are flexible enough to embrace the diversity of archaeological constraints. The combination of autonomous drones and digital photogrammetry provides an interesting answer to this need, going even further by providing new tools for exploration, documentation of the sites and communication of the discoveries made there.

Guillaume Gernez, the director of the MAFA, also found a moment to answer this same final question. Here’s what he had to say…

In the beginning, I expected that drones would be the perfect tool for aerial photogrammetry of archaeological sites and buildings, and for producing digital elevation models. Now, I consider drones useful for every step of archaeological work—from surveys (including very large areas) to architectural drawing, and 3D modelling of landscapes, sites and buildings). It is difficult to think of an archaeological operation without the use of drones!

Using_Drones_in_Archeology_Orthophoto A 2 cm ground resolution orthophoto extracted from the first aerial survey of the Mission’s Bisya/Salut site.

What comments or feedback have you received from colleagues and peers about your work on the Adam drone project?

Our peers have both been surprised by the drones’ abilities—asking for technical information on how and with what accuracy these results were produced—and impressed by the quality of the photogrammetric models.

This has led to questions from 3D imagery specialists as well as from cultural heritage professionals, the former asking about the drones’ autonomy and camera parameters, and the latter wondering about the possible applications in their own subjects of study.

Thanks Julien.

You’re welcome.