An oblique photo of part of the site of Fifa, Jordan. Every small black
circle is a shadow in a looted burial site. Photo courtesy of the
Follow the Pots Project.
Remnants of looting include a broken pot left behind at the Early Bronze
Age site of Fifa, Jordan. Photo courtesy of the Follow the Pots Project.
Click here to see
additonal photos on
our AMA Flickr page.
a remote location. The nearest town is several hours away by car
over poorly marked dirt tracks. During our excavation season,
we camp for a few weeks at a time near the site. This means that
we need to bring all of the flying gear with us and we have no
access to any replacement or repair parts. We have a generator
for charging batteries and I brought a large supply of small tools,
glues, tapes, and spare parts to support the equipment.
More than once I found myself huddled over a diesel
generator with a soldering iron, in the middle of the desert, to
repair some broken electrical connectors. The site is extremely
dusty and we had to work hard to protect the models from
clogging up with sand during and between flights.
Wind was also a problem, and we were limited to flying at
dawn when the wind was at its lowest ebb. Fortunately, this is
a great time of day for aerial photography, because the early
morning light evenly illuminates the ground.
Wisad Pools is located in a huge basalt boulder field. In the
area we planned to map, there is hardly any portion of the
ground not covered by large, rough basalt boulders. Good flat
ground for landing was rare.
At Wisad Pools, we used RC aerial photographs in several
ways. First, we flew the airplane over large portions of the site in
order to construct topographic maps of the area that show the
exact locations of visible archaeological ruins. We excavated one
of the prehistoric houses this season, and topographic mapping
will help us place that structure in the wider context of the rest
of the site.
We flew the airplane over the pools as part of a smaller
project to map the location of several hundred rock art drawings
carved into nearby boulders. These carvings generally depict
wild animals such as those the ancient inhabitants would have
hunted. Mapping these will provide clues to how people used
Finally, we used the hexacopter, along with pole aerial
photography, to take aerial photographs of the building we
excavated. These photographs will be used to build successive
3-D models showing the different phases of construction of the
structure, which was originally used as a house by people in the
late Neolithic Period and then was reused as a burial monument
thousands of years later. These 3-D models will allow an
extremely detailed reconstruction of the early and late use of the
Fifa is one of a cluster
of five Early Bronze Age
sites along the Dead
Sea Plain in Jordan.
Although it has only
had limited archaeological study in the past, we know that it is
a major burial center where thousands of people were interred
between 3600 B.C. and 3100 B.C.
Since the early 1980s, an alarming number of these burials
sites have been dug up and the burial goods sold on the illicit
antiquities market, but researchers disagree on the scale and pace
of the problem.
To help address the issue, Morag Kersel invited me to use
UAVs as part of a long-term project documenting the damage to
the site caused by illegal looting.
Throughout the course of several days, we flew several flights
with our RC airplane to get comprehensive photographic
coverage of the site as it currently exists. These photographs will
be turned into a detailed 3-D model of the site. This model will
allow us to map individual looting pits as well as the extent of
the destruction caused by looting.
More significantly, when we revisit the site each summer
during the next several years, we will make new 3-D models and
track how the landscape changes as new looting pits are dug. The
goal is that by documenting the scale of the problem we will be
able to help protect these sites in the future.
RC models can be a great tool for archaeologists looking for
low-cost mapping solutions and 3-D modeling of archaeological
sites, landscapes, and excavations. This is an exciting avenue for
utilizing RC technology to support research endeavors, and it has
been an exciting opportunity for me to combine two things that
The next few years are likely to witness an explosion in RC
use in archaeology and related fields. I look forward to continuing
and expanding my use of these machines in the Near East and
—Austin “Chad” Hill
Follow the Pots Project
34 Model Aviation APRIL 2014