Detecting Mounds Using Airborne LiDAR: Case Studies from Iowa and Minnesota

Author(s): William Whittaker; Joe Artz; Emilia Bristow

Year: 2015


Between 2009 and 2012, researchers at the the University of Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist (OSA) conducted a number of pilot studies in the application of airborne Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) to find and map prehistoric burial mounds. Studies were conducted in Iowa and Minnesota, two states that have invested in high quality, statewide LiDAR data. These studies began with the master's thesis research of OSA GIS specialist, Melanie Riley, and included the NCPTT-funded development of LiDAR Surveyor, a GIS-based model that processed LiDAR data looking for the characteristic conical topography of mounds. The studies have demonstrated that publicly-available LiDAR data from Iowa and Minnesota are capable of detecting mounds only 30 cm in height. We have found that LiDAR successfully detects a relatively high percentage of mounds known to exist at previously recorded sites. LiDAR Surveyor has proven successful at identifying previously unknown mounds, and is able to weed out "false positives," although we have found that field confirmation of results, no matter the method used, is absolutely essential.

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Cite this Record

Detecting Mounds Using Airborne LiDAR: Case Studies from Iowa and Minnesota. Joe Artz, William Whittaker, Emilia Bristow. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 396856)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -104.634; min lat: 36.739 ; max long: -80.64; max lat: 49.153 ;