Beyond the Drone: Seeing the Invisible

By Nicole Lathrop

A birds eye view can always tell us more. More about layout. More about structure. More about how the past and the present overlap. Its no wonder that the use of GIS in the field of archaeology has been long embedded in the study for understanding a sites context. In the necessity of looking beyond the visible though, post processing methods have contributed as much as a drone vantage point.

In the resulting imagery from archaeological sites, the visible can be manipulated and altered for easier analysis. When combined with drone photography, seeing otherwise invisible details, or being able to fully see the ‘big picture’ can provide the missing information that many archaeologists need for a complete conception of the site.

As mentioned GIS software has provided an invaluable tool for mapping and larger scale conceptualization. Programs such as Esri ArcGIS[1] and QGIS[2] (a free platform that does many of the same functions) has provided tools to help relate aerial images in a larger scope. A product of the aerial imagery – when the number of photos are able to cover a larger array, multiple angles, and can overlap – producing a 3D model with software like the free WebODM[3] would give another way to view the topography.  

Then we get into the truly invisible world – Rock art. DStretch[4], which has revolutionized the ability to analyze rock art, can alter the saturations of colours and the textures to give definition to the art. This  clarity in form and formation of rock art can tell us more about its creation and the styles origin.[5]

My future goals in this field are to see what overlapping technologies will provide. Will DStretch on a landscape image provide a clue to what is buried beneath it? Will creating a 3D model of a rock art panel reveal a better context to the image placement? These are questions I hope the answer will provide the archaeological community with even more tools for understanding what they see in the field.


[1] Price, M., 2018, Georeferencing Drone-Captured Imagery, retrieved from https://www.esri.com/about/newsroom/arcuser/georeferencing-drone-captured-imagery/

[2] Ghandi, U., 2019, Georeferencing Aerial Imagery, retrieved from  https://www.qgistutorials.com/en/docs/advanced_georeferencing.html

[3] OpenDroneMap, 2020, https://docs.opendronemap.org/tutorials.html, small price for downloader for easy install.

[4] Harman, J., https://www.dstretch.com/

[5] Connor, C. 2020, personal contact, Dominquez Archaeological Research Group.

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