Archaeological Drones

I like to think of myself as someone who enjoys most new technologies, electronics, and things that go beep.  One thing that I’ve hated since they blew up in popularity are drones.  Especially after seeing what people had done with them, like the private citizen who mounted their pistol on a drone and are able to fire at the push of a button.  Unlike our military, a private citizen would have no true need for a drone mounted gun, but I’ll set my politics aside because I’m sure I’ve already upset someone.  Anyway, in the explosion of popularity that drones experienced, I have just seen so many forms of misuse that make me question if these should be owned and operated by the public.  Again, I’ll set my politics aside because this could be a good debate for another day.

Recently, I’ve been becoming more of a fan of drones. And while I don’t see myself buying one at any point, they can be useful for archaeology so I’m finding myself seeing the good in them.  Like any other tool, there is no inherent good or bad, just how they’re used and who uses them.  Looking at drones in archaeology today, it seems like they’re primarily being used for aerial photography which makes sense.  The cost of a drone and a reliable camera would likely be cheaper than having to rent the services of someone who takes aerial photographs, particularly if you consistently have a need for up to date aerial photographs.  So, this makes total sense to me.  But drones do not stop with regular old aerial photography, they’ve been used with thermal imaging cameras which don’t sound all that different or useful compared to aerial photography overall.  However, if you keep in mind that different materials hold heat differently, suddenly structures buried in sand or covered in vegetation are potentially visible.  We’ve even seen drones being equipped with ground penetrating radar, which could provide higher accuracy in data collection by taking out some of the human error.  If we can apply drones like this, then who knows how else we could use them in archaeology?  Let’s just hope that drones, and other cool robots, can’t completely replace us, not yet anyway.

IUP Anthropology Department

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