Drones, or Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) or Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) carry the researchers' eyes and instruments into the air.

The UvA Dronelab, housed at the 4DRL, is an ROC certified drone operating research unit that is specialized at drone-based remote sensing and all kinds of related airborne data and imagery/videography capturing.

Drones for Research

In digital humanities, the use of drones is a fast developing innovative technology. Using various cameras and sensors, drones can help to capture landcapes and identify sites and architecture in 2D and 3D.

Drones have become essential to carry out modern archaeological fieldwork (both surveys and excavations). However, datasets collected using drones, whether aerial imagery/videography, high quality 3D models or thermal orthophotos can benefit any research area studying architecture, infrastructure or landscape.

Since drones are generally cost-effective, operationally flexible and easy to use, they enable the creation of new and valuable datasets, allowing research questions that have not been possible before.

Etruscan site of Acquarossa (IT)
Etruscan site of Acquarossa (IT)

What can they do for us?

Drones fill a niche between terrestrial scanning and geophysical remote sensing on the one hand, and airborne reconnaissance using planes, as well as spaceborne reconnaissance using satellites on the other.

Being able to fly at low altitudes, move unobstructed over uneven surfaces, hover in mid-air and cross water, they provide opportunities to collect unique and valuable data at very high resolutions. The ongoing miniaturization of sensor types such as thermal cameras, georadar and LiDAR, opens up a range of possibilities for advanced data collection techniques. Drones in combination with photogrammetrical software (Image Based Modeling, or IBM) turn into flying 3D scanners.

Case studies

Siegerswoude (NL)

In a short fieldwork operation at Siegerswoude (NL) in collaboration with the Rijksdienst voor Cultureel Erfgoed (RCE), high quality data was collected from an agricultural field featuring an archaeological anomaly. The slightly sunken elongated feature was interpreted as a ditch dug as part of a Medieval peat extraction settlement under construction.

A 1.5-hour flight over 12 ha resulted in an IBM model of the terrain with a resolution of 1 measurement every 1.5 cm. Compared to the Algemeen Hoogtebestand Nederland (AHN), which is a digital elevation model of the country available for that research area, this is a 33‐fold improvement. The increased resolution and high accuracy has led to the identification of archaeological features that could not be detected in AHN surface models. The application of drone thermography led to the identification of subsoil anthropogenic features, likely to be of archaeological significance.

Siegerswoude (NL), left LiDAR data vs IBM data, 
right (other location) drone orthophoto vs thermal imagery (inset anomaly)
Siegerswoude (NL), left LiDAR data vs IBM data, right (other location) drone orthophoto vs thermal imagery (inset anomaly)

Troy (TR)

During one week of fieldwork at the famous site of Troy in Turkey in the context of the Archaeology of Archaeology at Troy Project, an extensive 2D, 3D and thermal mapping of the site were carried out. The main purpose was to create an accurate model of parts of the site for the above mentioned project, as well as to experiment with drone thermography.

In a 2-hour flight the whole site was captured resulting in a model at ca. 6 cm accuracy. Although drone photogrammetry has potentially a much higher accuracy, this was not the goal of this recording session. The topographical model of the site (below) is used for presentation, navigation and communication purposes.

3D model of Troy (TR), highly reduced quality for interactive online visualisation

Short bibliography

  • Campana, S., 2017. Drones in Archaeology. State-of-the-art and Future Perspectives. Archaeol. Prospect. 1099-0763. https://doi.org/10.1002/arp.1569
  • Casana, J., Wiewel, A., Cool, A., Hill, A., Fisher, K., & Laugier, E. (2017). Archaeological Aerial Thermography in Theory and Practice. Advances in Archaeological Practice, 5(4), 310-327. https://doi.org/10.1017/aap.2017.23
  • Stek, T.D., 2016. Drones over Mediterranean landscapes. The potential of small UAV’s (drones) for site detection and heritage management in archaeological survey projects: A case study from Le Pianelle in the Tappino Valley, Molise (Italy). Journal of Cultural Heritage 22, pp. 1066-1071. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.culher.2016.06.006
  • Verhoeven, G., 2009. Providing an archaeological bird’s-eye view. An overall picture of ground-based means to execute low-altitude aerial photography (LAAP) in archaeology. Archaeol. Prospect. 16, pp. 233-249. https://doi.org/10.1002/arp.354
  • Waagen, J. (2019). New technology and archaeological practice. Improving the primary archaeological recording process in excavation by means of UAS photogrammetry. Journal of Archaeological Science, 101, 11-20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2018.10.011

UvA = Airborne!

Drone operating at Siegerswoude (NL)
Drone operating at Siegerswoude (NL)

ROC = RPAS operator Certificate

In short, the ROC authorizes the UvA Dronelab for operating >4kg drones, flying at an extended altitude and distance from the pilot, enter restricted airspace, and requesting clearance for entering urban areas, military areas and (parts of) airport controlled areas.

ROC information on ILT

Further information

Please contact j.waagen@uva.nl