Sensing the Past

I have just returned from the Sensing the Past conference in Frankfurt on remote sensing in archaeology. It was the final conference for the ArchaeoLandscapes Europe project (ArcLand), which has been running for five years under the directorship of Axel Posluschny of the Roman-Germanic Commission. ArcLand’s main aim was to create a European network between users of remote sensing methods in archaeology and to encourage the wider take-up of and training in said methods. As the conference revealed, in this context remote sensing means a mixture of different non-invasive prospection methods, including LiDAR, geophysics, aerial photography, hyper-spectral imaging, and some satellite imaging.

The conference itself was very engaging intellectually. I was particularly taken with two elements: the work of Michael Doneus and his team on the latest prospection methods (particularly hyper-spectral imaging, which has the potential to be the next great breakthrough); and the work of Kevin Barton with community groups in Ireland, where low-cost aerial imaging has the potential to open up community engagement with archaeology in a country where you need a license to undertake almost any other type of archaeological work. Another fun paper was given by Gabor Bertok which included the successful usage of data collected by GPS-enabled combine harvesters for archaeological prospection (which would be of limited applicability for archaeology, but potentially immensely useful for reconstructing past river channels across wide landscapes)!

Amongst the most useful achievements of ArcLand partners has been the creation of two toolboxes for processing LiDAR data: Ralf Hesse’s LiDAR Visualization Toolbox (LiVT) and Žiga Kokalj’s Relief Visualization Toolbox (RVT). By their own description, RVT is the more user-friendly and LiVT the more customizable when undertaking analyses. I shall certainly be experimenting with them more myself.

In any event, overall the conference was very worthwhile and it is to be hoped that the brilliant work of the ArcLand network continues even as the funding comes to an end.

Chris Green