Landscapes of the Dead:
Aerial and Pedestrian Site Monitoring at Fifa, an Early Bronze Age Cemetery on the Dead Sea Plain, Jordan
By: Morag M. Kersel, Department of Anthropology, DePaul University
The primary objective of the Landscapes of the Dead Research Project is to assess (through aerial photography and a pedestrian survey) the Early Bronze Age (EBA, c.3500-2000 BCE) archaeological landscape at Fifa in order to better understand both the ancient and modern use of a prehistoric mortuary site. The cemetery of Fifa contains thousands (an estimated 10,000+) cist tombs whose use spanned the emergence and collapse of the first walled, urban settlements in the region. In the archaeology of the southern Levant this site represents an incredibly important resource for researchers: it is one of only four large known EBA cemeteries (the others being Bab-adh Dhra’, Jericho, and Naqa).
This archaeological site is threatened by systematic looting as a result of the demand for artifacts in the antiquities market. An innovative element of this field project is the use of aerial photography as a method of site assessment and monitoring. The advantages of gaining a good aerial view of the ground are well established and appreciated by archaeologists; a high viewpoint permits a better appreciation of fine details and their spatial relationships within the wider site context. Rather than relying on satellite images or GoogleEarth, which provide insufficient resolution for identifying site details, multiple images of the site were taken using various technologies. Austin (Chad) Hill, an expert in aerial photography from small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), used a transportable multicopter (hexacopter) and a remote controlled plane, both of which provided platforms for stable, low elevation aerial photography. With these technologies it was possible to both document looting and site destruction at Fifa as well as generating spatial data for digital mapping.
The 2013 season allowed us to conclude that looters are revisiting old looter’s holes, there is ongoing recent looting, and there is a discernable difference in looting episodes. I was delighted to receive a Harris Grant for innovative research program. This season of aerial site monitoring was the first of a five year plan to revisit the site at the same time each year to investigate change over time and to assess the potential impact of anti-looting campaigns and outreach programs.
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