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Field Walking and Drone Flying, at Wadi al Ashert

Field Walking and Drone Flying, the 2015 Survey at Wadi al Ashert

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By: Austin “Chad” Hill, 2015 P.E. McAllister Fellowship Recipient

This summer, thanks to an ASOR P.E. McAllister Fellowship, I was able to continue working with the Galilee Prehistory Project {GPP) of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. I have been thrilled to be a part of this research program since its inception in 2009. I began my association with the GPP (co-Directed by Yorke Rowan and Morag Kersel) as a volunteer and after six successful seasons at the Chalcolithic site of Marj Rabba I am now the Field/Associate Director. Part of the larger research goals of the GPP is an investigation of the Chalcolithic (4600-3600 BCE) in the Galilee, this period is understudied in this region. This summer we focused our energies on surveying in the Wadi al Ashert, Israel in order to identifying new sites for excavation.

In my capacity as the Field Director for the project, I helped with the design of the survey, the creation and collection of the spatial data for the project, and oversaw our small crew of hard-working volunteers and Metcalfe interns from the University of Chicago.

The Wadi al Ashert crew for 2015 (Chad Hill is second from the left in the back row)

The Wadi al Ashert crew for 2015 (Chad Hill is second from the left in the back row)

Utilizing my experience in drone-based mapping, I performed an aerial survey of the site as part of our basic site-recording strategy. Drones have become an increasingly useful tool for archaeologists. They let us record high-resolution spatial data very quickly with relatively inexpensive equipment. This summer we used both a fixed wing drone and a multi-rotor (quadcopter) drone to record aerial images of the site. The quadcopter was used primarily for oblique images of the site to provide a novel perspective on the landscape while the fixed wing is used to produce accurate 3d maps of the landscape on which to plot our survey data.

We collect a lot of aerial photography and video as part of the drone-recording process. Most of the recording is for use in mapping. However, this year we also had the use of a DJI Phantom 3 quadcopter generously donated by DJI. In addition to mapping data, the Phantom 3 is fantastic for recording dynamic videos of our crew in action. We can use oblique still and video from this machine for a variety of public outreach including the creation of less-than-serious videos to highlight the project. At the following link you can see a “movie-trailer” style video utilizing some of this drone footage.

Ready to launch the fixed wing drone

Ready to launch the fixed wing drone

aerial view of a test pit during excavation, taken with our DJI Phantom 3, with another ongoing test pit in the background

Aerial view of a test pit during excavation, taken with our DJI Phantom 3, with another ongoing test pit in the background

The drone surveys at the site this summer were extremely successful. We were able to cover the entire survey area with just a few autonomous fixed wing flights, allowing us to record the landscape at a high resolution.

Work at the site is hard. We were walking long transects through spider-infested, thorny brambles, to record surface features and artifact densities, as well as using a North American Cultural Resource Management strategy of digging test pits, as part of our intensive survey, to identify stratigraphy and the spatial distribution of buried artifacts. In the summer heat, with no shade, this is difficult. However, by the end of the season we had an excellent grasp of where the artifact densities are highest, and where the most likely spots for future excavations would be located. We will be reporting on this at the ASOR annual meeting in Atlanta – presenting a paper and posters. I am extremely grateful for the support from ASOR for my continued involvement with this project. We are also indebted to the Israel Antiquities Authority for their permissions to carry out intensive pedestrian and drone survey and test excavations during the Wadi al Ashert project.

 

Teaching students how to record a test pit

Teaching students how to record a test pit

Our project can be followed on Facebook, on our blog, and on Twitter. Follow Austin on Twitter at @Achiii.

Austin Hill is a research scientist at the University of Connecticut. He is a specialist in zooarchaeology and spatial data collection and serves as the field/associate director of the Galilee Prehistory Project. Austin uses UAVs for archaeological research in Israel, Jordan, Kenya, and Qatar. 

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