A Million Points of Light

Dec 09, 2019 | News

Today’s archaeologists and explorers are using exciting 3D laser technology known as LiDAR (Light and Detection Ranging) to discover aspects of ancient civilization that have gone missing for hundreds and even thousands of years. Flying LiDAR on UAVs (drones), they are often able to go where no one has gone before.
The ancient Mayan city of Tikal was one of the best-mapped regions of the Mayan world, but the PACUNAM Lidar Initiative quintupled the amount of mapping done in 50 years in a single summer. Photo courtesy of Tikal Park/ArtNet News


How LiDAR is Changing the Way We See Our World, Past and Present

An August 2019 ArtNet News story reveals how lost Mayan ruins have been recovered using LiDAR tech. “The Maya civilization flourished more than 1,000 years ago, but [LiDAR] is only now revealing the secrets of this ancient Mexican and Central American culture—and it’s happening at an unprecedented pace” according to writer Sarah Cascone. “A recent spate of discoveries is transforming the field of Maya archaeology, as researchers discover new ways to identify and investigate ancient ruins.”

In the October issue of Science Magazine, a group of intrepid researchers goes up river, deep into the southern rainforests of Mexico’s Montes Azules nature preserve. They are searching for the long-lost Lacandon city of Sac Balam (the white jaguar), but the preserve is impenetrable by road and covered in jungle foliage; the only way in is up river and the only way to find Sac Balam is with LiDAR technology, which can peer into the deepest jungles.

A newly discovered ancient Maya site north of Tikal as detected by LiDAR. Image courtesy of Luke Auld/Thomas Garrison/Pacunam/ArtNet


Notes Science Magazine, “When faced with such huge swaths of inaccessible territory, archaeologists these days often turn to LiDAR, a laser-based equivalent of radar that lets them strip vegetation out of aerial photographs and expose the sites beneath. A recent lidar survey of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in northern Guatemala—about 160 kilometers to the northeast of Montes Azules—revealed more than 60,000 ancient structures, most unknown to researchers.”

And across Europe, archaeologists are availing themselves of LiDAR technology to explore large swaths of forest and other terrain, often coming up with unexpected discoveries. An October 2019 issue of Archaeology Magazine reports that “1,000 possible archaeological sites have been identified on Arran, an island off the coast of Scotland, with LiDAR technology.”

Naturally, LiDAR is a fabulous application for surveyors working in the fields of geographic and atmospheric mapping, and it’s essential when it comes to guiding self-driving vehicles, but LiDAR has also become a favorite new tool for climate scientists and archaeologists.

Recovering hidden sites and ancient monuments has an ancillary benefit when it comes to tourism, such that many government officials are looking at commissioning 3D LiDAR mapping of their region. Scottish mapping manager Dave Cowley told the BBC recently that, “This new 3D technology has allowed us to undertake a rapid archaeological survey, over weeks rather than months or years, and allowed us to discover sites that might even have been impossible to find otherwise.”

Unquestionably drone-mounted LiDAR provides enhanced flexibility, as well as lower mobilization costs that enable one to cover small areas which would otherwise be cost-prohibitive to cover with airborne mapping. Finally, LiDAR provides for a very high point density, which means higher definition at the end of the day.

For further information on the benefits of employing LiDAR to survey your region, contact YellowScan LiDAR with an email to contact-at-yellowscan-lidar.com.

–Jordan Robert

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