The camera is clearly visible as this hexacoptor flies at Wisad Pools,
Jordan. Photo courtesy of Gary Rollefson.
The author performs a terrestrial
survey to record spatial data for
3-D modeling from aerial photos
at the site of Wisad Pools, Jordan.
Photo courtesy of Yorke Rowan.
The author posing with the Skywalker 1680. Photo courtesy of the Follow
the Pots Project.
Aerial Photography and Archaeology
Archaeology is often described as a destructive science.
Everything that is buried in the ground can only be excavated
once. However, archaeological research includes more than
simply digging. Responsible archaeologists are mindful that we
should extract the maximum information from each site that
we excavate. This includes intensively documenting everything
Archaeologists have been using low-level aerial photographs
to document their excavations for more than 100 years,
beginning when Sir Henry Wellcome documented excavations
in the Sudan in 1913 with a camera suspended from a kite.
Overhead images of archaeological excavations are critical
for recording the spatial relationships among archaeological
features such as buildings, courtyards, burials, hearths, and
artifacts, and they can sometimes reveal relationships between
features that are not apparent from the ground.
Modern archaeologists continue to use kites, as well as
balloons, poles, fruit-pickers, construction equipment, and
ladders for overhead photos. Unfortunately, these methods are
often unreliable, expensive, or dependent upon serendipitous
access to nearby equipment. Radio-controlled aircraft provide
an affordable, flexible alternative.
In our first season using radio-controlled aerial photography
in 2011, we ran a small pilot project to test the value of
RC equipment for archaeology. We started by buying ARF
equipment in Israel for an airplane-based platform and building a
simple, small quadcopter from parts ordered online.
Encouraged by the results with these models, in 2013 we
received a small grant from DePaul University as well as some
financial support from the Vintage Radio Control Society and
the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago to build
For this past season I selected a Skywalker 1680 foam FPV
model as a platform. This airplane has been fantastic. Durable
and affordable, it flies predictably, can land on a variety of
surfaces with its fiberglass belly pan, and can be broken down
and transported in a relatively small box.
The Skywalker can carry a moderately large 4S 5,000 mAh
battery for extended flying and one or two cameras at a time—
one forward facing for aerial video and one downward facing
for mapping. The Skywalker also carries an ArduPilot Mega
(APM) 2. 5 flight-control board for tracking position via onboard
GPS data. Additionally, we hope to use the APM for fully
We also routinely work with multirotors. Airplanes and
multirotors provide different benefits for archaeologists.
Airplanes are great for mapping larger areas more quickly and
they are less prone to catastrophic failures; however, airplanes
require more space to launch and land, are bulkier to transport,
and are slower to deploy.
Multirotors are convenient for taking aerial images of small
and confined spaces and can be rapidly deployed. For these
reasons, I like to have both aircraft in the field.
During this past season, we had a small 450 cm quadcopter
capable of carrying a small point-and-shoot camera and a larger
hexacopter capable of carrying a digital single-lens reflex camera.
32 Model Aviation APRIL 2014