Archaeological Aerial Thermography in Theory and Practice

Author(s): Adam Wiewel; Jesse Casana; Autumn Cool

Year: 2015


Archaeologists have recognized since the 1970s that thermal images captured at an optimal time in the diurnal cycle have the potential to reveal surface artifacts, subtle topography, and even subsurface architectural remains. However, it is only with the recent development of reliable and stable unmanned aerial vehicles, small, uncooled, high-resolution thermal cameras, and powerful photogrammetric image processing software that archaeological aerial thermography has become practical. This paper discusses our recent efforts to deploy this emerging technology on a range of archaeological sites, with examples including an ancestral Puebloan community in New Mexico, a Mississippian mound center in Arkansas, a Late Bronze Age city in Cyprus, and an Iron Age metal production center in Dubai. Results provide a methodological blueprint for drone-based collection and processing of thermal imagery, and illustrate some of the factors that affect the visibility of archaeological features under different environmental conditions. We also discuss a number of experimental approaches to processing thermal data that help highlight archaeological features even further, pointing to some of the many still unexplored possibilities for drone-based aerial thermography to aid in archaeological research.

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Cite this Record

Archaeological Aerial Thermography in Theory and Practice. Jesse Casana, Adam Wiewel, Autumn Cool. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395038)