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Drone-assisted archeology

Drone-assisted archeology
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We are on highway A1 near Lausanne, Switzerland. Under the asphalt, an archaeological dig is underway on an ancient Gallo-Roman site. It’s a long, time-consuming job, which has been made easier in recent times thanks to new technology.

Archaeologist Olivier Feihl is making a 3D map of the dig using a drone equipped with a camera.

“It takes a photo every 1.5 or 2 metres to make sure the whole surface is covered, so that the photos will overlap, enabling us to measure the archaeological dig in 3D,” he tells euronews.

It’s a true revolution for archaeologists and helps them save a lot of time.

“Before we had this kind of technology, everything was done by hand,” says Sebastien Freudiger, who is also working on the project. “Each wall was drawn by hand, each layer was drawn by hand. Now, this new technology enables us to do all of that on a computer.”

It takes the drone just ten minutes to take all the snaps needed. They are then processed by computer and transformed into highly precise 3D data.

Oliver Feihl explains how the technology works:

“The photos are downloaded into a photogrammetry programme, which allows us to assemble them. Each blue rectangle you see on the screen represents the position of a photo taken of the site. Then, thanks to GPS, we’re able to establish a metric scale and a reference horizon for this 3D model,” he says.

It’s not only a precious tool for archaeologists but also one which benefits the greater public.

“It’s a very rich source of data for us. It also means that we can make these pictures more accessible to the public, put them on the internet for everyone to see how the dig is progressing,” he tells euronews.

Robert Michel is a prehistoric ceramic specialist. He also has a passion for new technology. He wants to share his passion with visitors.

“An archaeologist is able to stand in front of a pile of ruins and imagine what it used to look like in 3D, to see the different rooms of a Roman villa, for example, and what they were used for. That’s not the case for ordinary people, who just see a pile of stones and nothing beyond that,” he says.

At the ruins of a Roman villa in the town of Vicques, visitors have to imagine what it used to look like with the help of drawings. So Robert has created an entire 3D reconstruction of the site on the social media website Second Life. It’s both a way for visitors to discover the site online and a scientific tool.

“Some English and American universities make use of this technology to visualise ancient sites, thanks to these digital models, which are easy to handle,” he says.

A few kilometres over the border, in France, lie the remains of the ancient Roman theatre of Mandeure. Here, visitors are able to go on a visual journey back in time thanks to a simple tablet:

“What we have on this tablet is a 3D digital reconstruction of the theatre. Thanks to GPS, when we stroll through the theatre, we are able to see what it used to look like, in 3D…so we can see, for example, that the surrounding walls were 10 or 15 metres high.That gives you an idea of just how big the theatre was,” says Ludovic Messinger, manager of the Numeri4D project.

An inspiring example of how a little imagination assited by 21st century high-tech can help Mankind understand a great deal more about the past.