A 3-D model of a Neolithic dwelling at Wisad Pools, constructed from
more than 100 aerial images of the structure. Photo courtesy of the
Eastern Badia Research Project.
Right: An aerial shot at Wisad Pools, Jordan, shows a pool at the
top, a large animal pen to the left (circle with a V-shaped opening),
and many remains of Neolithic structures (circular features in
center and bottom). Photo courtesy of the Eastern Badia Research
Both machines were flying “multi-Wii-” based systems.
Most of our surveys are performed using Canon S100 cameras.
These cameras have decent resolution and can run Canon
Hacker’s Development Kit (CHDK), an alternative firmware
that gives you a variety of additional camera controls. The most
important feature of CHDK is the ability to run intervalometer
scripts that force the camera to take a picture every second or
two for the entire time the model is aloft.
The Canon S100 also has onboard GPS for geotagging.
Although this GPS is not particularly accurate while in the air,
the geotags that are automatically appended to every photo can
be helpful during the mapping process.
We also use GoPro Hero cameras to record onboard video.
The videos from these cameras provide a visceral experience of
what these sites look like from the air.
We use an infrared-enabled camera for some surveys. Infrared
imagery has the potential to reveal patterns of differential
growth in agricultural fields that are invisible to the naked eye.
These patterns might help us identify archaeological features
below the soil that are not otherwise discernible.
New Technology: 3-D Modeling
Traditionally, archaeologists have used aerial images as simple
illustrations of their excavations. However, the development
of 3-D photogrammetry technology now allows us to convert
standard two-dimensional photographs into high-resolution 3-D
These models provide a visceral way to experience
archaeological sites after excavations are over, so they can be
a great resource for sharing our results with others, including
students and the general public.
Of greater importance, 3-D models can be used, along with
some additional survey data, to generate accurate maps. Unlike
the original photographs, these 3-D models are undistorted and
properly scaled to the real world. We generate 3-D models on
The Skywalker 1680 captures higher-altitude images that
are used to generate 3-D models and topographic maps
of the landscape surrounding our excavation sites. The
multirotors take lower-altitude photos that are used to
create 3-D models of the excavation.
We generally use handheld and pole aerial photography
for small features such as hearths and storage pits. By
building many models from all of this high- and low-altitude imagery captured over several years, we can
document changes over time. This can be a great tool for
tracking the progress of excavations or identifying damage caused
by illegal excavation.
The 2013 Field Season
Last summer I had the opportunity to do aerial photography
and mapping at several archaeological sites in Israel and Jordan. I
will discuss two of them.
Wisad Pools is a massive archaeological site in the eastern
desert of Badia in Jordan. The site consists of hundreds of
collapsed structures, visible on the surface, spread across an area
spanning several square kilometers. Use of the site covers a huge
timespan—from approximately 12,000 years ago until the 4th
Many of the structures represent tombs from later use of the
site by Safaitic inhabitants in the 4th century; however, there
are also many earlier domestic structures built by people in the
late Neolithic Period (5500-4500 B.C.) and Chalcolithic Period
(4500-3600 B.C.). The site is situated around a series of natural
pools that collect water in the rainy season and retain that water
as standing pools well into the summer. This water resource is
likely the reason people intensively utilized this area in the past.
Wisad Pools was a challenging place to fly model aircraft. It is
33 Model Aviation APRIL 2014