I. Module introduction and overview:
This module will focus on three forms of remote sensing used by archaeologists and provide a framework for how they can be used in inclusive discourse about the past. The methods of ground penetrating radar, aerial imaging, and LiDAR will be presented and will include the potential benefits and limitations of such techniques. Students will listen to interviews with experts in the field including Indigenous scholars and other scholars working to use remote sensing in ways that promote multicultural inclusivity.
Many are unaware that archaeologists can use a variety of tools to interpret the past without ever putting a trowel in the ground. In fact, some of the earliest uses of remote sensing began nearly one hundred years ago in 1929 when Anne Lindbergh and Charles Lindbergh were hired to fly over dense tropical forests of Central America and take photographs of anomalous “hills.” Such hills happened to be Maya temples–soaring above the dense canopy and virtually impossible to see from the rugged forest floor. Other techniques of “looking” into the ground without digging (called geophysical methods) are actually quite old, as methods like ground penetrating radar were actually in use by geologists as early as 1910.
Since then, much has changed in the remote sensing field concerning rapid technological changes that include satellites, lasers, and modern computing capabilities. Such technological revolutions have created a host of current technologies like Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR), magnetometry, and electromagnetic resistivity. All techniques are useful to identify anomalies or features both above and below the surface that appear to have been made or modified through human activity. These features can include the remains of structures (houses, mounds, platforms), roads, terraces, borrow pits, storage pits, tunnels, cellars, caches, and even burials. Basically, if humans have modified the landscape in the past, there is a high likelihood that archaeologists can detect it using remote sensing technology.
There are a host of remote sensing techniques, but this learning module will focus on three common methods used by archaeologists: ground penetrating radar, aerial imaging, and LiDAR. These methods are important because they can tell archaeologists where to dig, assist with mapping sites, and allow us to see how land use changed over time.
Ground penetrating radar (GPR) allows archaeologists to identify anomalies in the ground, and when coupled with computer software, can create useful and fairly accurate three-dimensional images of what lies beneath the surface. Interestingly, one of the core technologies in GPR might not even be far from you right now. The Hot Pocket you just microwaved and burned your tongue on used the same electromagnetic radiation that this instrument uses, only a GPR sends broader waves into the ground in pulses and detects their reflection off of solid objects and soil inconsistencies. As a GPR is pushed across the surface, the variables of distance and time are recorded by the machine to create a picture or a time slice of what it sees. The output is far from an episode of CSI: Miami, however, and does not resemble an x-ray, but rather a multitude of arcs that indicate a signal reflection (see Activity 1b). If enough time slices are put together on a grid, several time slices can be used to create a map of anomalies at a site.
Interpreting the readout can be somewhat subjective depending on the soil and other natural conditions (roots, rocks), so anomalies can be investigated by excavation later.
Aerial imaging is exactly what it sounds like: images taken from the air. By comparing aerial images from the past with aerial images taken today, archaeologists can locate sites and features on the landscape that are no longer visible to the naked eye. Aerial images have been taken from all kinds of air-borne vessels for nearly a century, including satellites, airplanes, drones, hot air balloons, and even kites! As multiple images are taken across a landscape, they can be geometrically corrected to remove distortions, then stitched together to create one whole photo of the entire landscape. You might ask: who was taking images from the air a century ago? Military intelligence divisions! Aerial photography has been widely used since World War I, and images from the United States’ CORONA, ARGON, and LANYARD spy satellite programs are now declassified and available for public use. These images date to the 1960s and 1970s and cover parts of every continent. By comparing historical images with modern images, we can see and measure anthropogenic changes, including growing cities and increased agriculture, as well as environmental change, including vanishing wetlands and lakes and coastal erosion. Aerial images give archaeologists a picture of the past!
Invisible lasers being shot from an airplane sounds like the stuff of science fiction and spy novels, but LiDAR (which stands for Light Detection and Ranging) is a real technology that archaeologists around the world use to better understand their sites. Through a process of emitting laser beam pulses and measuring the amount of time it takes for the beam to return, LiDAR sensors can build highly accurate 3-dimensional models of objects, buildings, and the ground – even when it’s covered in trees and bushes. These models can help archaeologists visualize details that are often obscured in real life, such as incised decorations on pots or man-made changes to a landscape. LiDAR has enabled archaeologists to record an unprecedented level of detail about all kinds of things and to improve documentation and interpretations of the past.
Remote sensing technologies have become a powerful tool for descendant communities and decentered perspectives on archaeology. Because of its non-invasive nature, GPR has been utilized by archaeologists driven to reclaim histories, expose inequities, and document mistreatment in historical contexts of slavery and attempted genocide. In the antebellum South, cemeteries of enslaved African Americans were often unmarked, or honored with perishable markers. If headstones were used, they were often subject to removal or clearing for construction or agricultural purposes. When compared with cemeteries of Euro-American descent, differences in preservation are striking and reflective of racist attitudes toward enslaved Africans and their dead. Archaeologists have used combinations of oral histories and often vague historical records to verify locations of cemeteries and document them for the public. Some examples include research to locate a cemetery at Montpelier, VA, home of James Madison (Proulx and McGary 2019), a burial ground of enslaved people at Belle Grove Plantation (Jones 2020), various African American cemeteries in the Atlanta area (Khan 2022), and Sweet Briar Plantation, VA (Rainville 2008). Other recent applications include the search for interred children at Residential Schools and Indian Boarding Schools in both Canada and the U.S. (Dr. Kisha Supernant, Marsha Small)–a central topic of Activity 1 in this module.
- How can decentering perspectives be applied to remote sensing technologies?
- What current inequities and barriers exist in terms of historically marginalized groups’ access to remote sensing technologies and data interpretation?
- How can remote sensing be used to address past injustices against marginalized groups and how might issues of segregation, inequity, and forced assimilation manifest themselves in the form of cemeteries?
Traditionally regarded as inaccessible to most communities due to cost, remote sensing techniques have become increasingly popular methods to decenter and decolonize archaeology. Remote sensing also offers opportunities to visualize archaeological sites related to communities who have been intentionally or unintentionally erased, including Indigenous communities and communities of color, from the landscape. Such methodologies can affirm the historical presence of these populations without the time, expense, and destructive techniques of traditional archaeological excavations. Such methods can complement the oral traditions and cultural histories that have been known by descendant communities via other valid ontologies.
Optional additional readings:
Eaton, Alexandra, Christoph Koettl, Quincy G. Ledbetter, Victoria Simpson and Aaron Byrd (2021) “Searching for the Lost Graves of Louisiana’s Enslaved People”
Khan, Ayesha (2022) “Finding Lost Voices: An Archaeological Study of Historic, African American Burial Sites in North Georgia.” Thesis, Georgia State University, 2022.
Proulx, Michelle, and R. Shane McGary (2019) “Reclaiming history: Using ground penetrating radar to identify the location of antebellum African American cemeteries.” Paper presented at the SEG International Exposition and Annual Meeting, San Antonio, Texas, USA, September 2019.
Rainville, Lynn. (2008) “Social memory and plantation burial grounds, a Virginian example.” African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter 11, no. 1: 5.
II. Module Components:
Topic 1: Ground Penetrating Radar
1a. Locating the Missing: Indigenous Boarding Schools
This activity introduces students to a recent topic involving the history of Boarding Schools in the United States and Canada. Such schools were used as a form of colonial practice often with the goal of erasing Native lifeways and culture. Recently, descendant tribes have begun to not only uncover the truth about such schools, but use forms of remote sensing like ground penetrating radar to document deaths and burials that often were not included or scarcely recorded in school documents. As a content advisory, it is important to communicate to students that this activity deals with sensitive topics of trauma, attempted genocide, assault, and child death among Indigenous societies.
a. Prepare students to view “Canada’s Unmarked Graves” by beginning a discussion using the pre-viewing questions below.
Canada’s Unmarked Graves
This 60 Minutes story narrated by Anderson Cooper provides an overview of the history of Residential Schools in Canada. Interviewees include survivors of the schools and Native archaeologists seeking answers and accountability.
- How can the trauma of present-day societies be connected to history (written, oral, and archaeological)? Can you think of examples where cultural disruptions have had lasting impacts with contemporary populations?
- How aware are you of Native American boarding schools in North America? If so, where have you heard of them? If not, why might this information be overlooked?
- What are Boarding Schools, and how were they often used as colonial strategies?
- What types of intergenerational trauma were present among those interviewed in the clip?
- How might archaeological methods provide support for descendant communities affected by Boarding Schools.
b. Prepare students to watch interviews with scholars Dr. Davina Two Bears and Marsha Small.
Dr. Davina Two Bears (Swarthmore College, Diné (Navajo)):
Dr. Two Bears wrote her dissertation entitled “Researching My Heritage: The Old Leupp Boarding School Historic Site” and discusses her research approach and analysis of oral traditions and archaeological remains of the school.
Marsha Small (Blue Tipi Woman, Montana State University, Tsitsistas (Northern Cheyenne)):
Small is an active researcher and cultural preservationist, and has performed GPR work on Boarding School cemeteries. She discusses some of her work at Chemawa Boarding School in Oregon and the implications for archaeology and remote sensing.
- Why is it important for anthropology/archaeology to have a diverse population of scholars? Why does representation matter in the field of archaeology?
- Why is it important to document and make Boarding Schools known to the wider populace?
- How does Dr. Two Bears integrate elements of sociocultural anthropology and archaeology into her research? How is her approach to archaeology different from a “traditional” sense, and reflective of Diné worldviews?
- How is the theme of Diné resilience and resistance brought out in Two Bear’s work and how does this differ from the stories presented in the 60 Minutes feature?
- What approaches to decolonizing practice are present in Marsha Small’s interview? How can researchers better support descendant communities?
- What emotional responses did you have while watching the interviews? Why is it important to be cognizant about intergenerational trauma when approaching topics like remote sensing in these contexts?
d. Distribute the book chapter “Bearing Witness: What can archaeology contribute in an Indian Residential School context?” by Eric Simons, Andrew Martindale, and Alison Wylie and read together in class. Click here for chapter.
Have students write on the whiteboard or on jamboard (https://jamboard.google.com) important points that they feel are relevant to the discussion at hand. Have the students relate the reading to what we have learned earlier from our guest speakers.
e. Have the students discuss some of the broader issues of colonialism, boarding schools, and remote sensing. Try creating a mind map of some of the broad themes and how themes can relate to contemporary Native and Non-Native scholars. The idea behind a mind map is it begins with a central idea and you can organize information in branches and subbranches extending out from the main theme in a hierarchy. Students can discuss a variety of angles that include biological anthropology and also contemporary politics. How should modern governments incorporate the past when it comes to issues like boarding schools and Indigenous rights?
f. In addition to writing up some of the ideas discussed above, have students search for a historical Native American boarding school in their region or state using an internet search. Think of the following questions and produce a writeup:
-What forms of social institutions were involved in the creation of the school?
-Which Indigenous groups were involved with the school?
-How well documented is the site and have researchers worked there?
-What is left of the site materially and how might archaeology add to our understandings?
-How might dialoguing with descendant communities help understand this site through archaeology?
Activity 1b. Methodological Approaches to Burial Detection
This activity can be used as an activity to demonstrate the methods of how archaeologists interpret GPR data in the context of unmarked burial discovery. It can be used to illustrate the methods of what is described in Activity 1a in regard to recent use of GPR at boarding schools. Although GPR is a powerful tool, it also requires careful training to understand anomalies and interpret results. Many burials are simply not detectable due to their condition, so special attention to anomalies like burial shafts and soil disturbances are important to reveal patterns. Such challenges are mentioned by Marsha Small in her interview, and it is important to note that the term “anomaly” can be considered dehumanizing when detecting burials in known cemeteries. Most current GPR work is being done in known cemeteries of boarding schools and not in completely random areas of sites.
This exercise uses actual GPR output collected from a Shaker settlement in central Kentucky. Dating to the early 1800s, Shakers were a predominantly Euro-American religious group who embraced some progressive elements for the time, including early forms of gender equity and anti-slavery sentiment. Their modest lifestyles meant that burials were often quite simple, and Shaker cemeteries (such as the one described here) are often not clearly marked and have been damaged or lost by natural processes throughout time.
This activity can be used to simulate some of the benefits and challenges of GPR in the context of burial detection, and can provide a background if students decide to volunteer to support Indigenous communities with their GPR work. If the instructor is not familiar with interpreting GPR results, a brief interpretation of the data are provided.
- Students should watch the short video with Dr. Ryan Campbell (SIUC) demonstrating how GPR works and ways that it is used in the field:
- Students should skim the article “Burial Detection Using Ground-Penetrating Radar in Southern Illinois” (Campbell and Meissner 2016), paying attention to the methods used to detect burials and the results of the study. This can be done in class or on students’ own time. Click here for article.
- The concept of the bow echo should be communicated to students. The top of the parabola curve is a “ping” and shows the position of the anomaly in depth and distance.
- The concept of the anomaly score (pg. 122) should be clearly communicated to students and developed on the board. This scoring system allows archaeologists to propose the likelihood of a sub-surface burial.
- Arrange the students into small groups of 3-4
- Have the students view the Powerpoint images in Activity 1b folder. These images are data from a small survey and includes a time slice (horizontal) of a cemetery row. Click here for Powerpoint images.
- Have students analyze and answer the following:
- What anomaly score would they give each burial with an existing headstone?
- What was the overall success rate of the GPR for the marked gravestones expressed in headstones present versus anomalies detected?
- What anomaly scores might they assign in areas where there are no existing headstones?
- How many unmarked graves would each group estimate in this sample?
- Students can complete a short 1 page writeup as a group on the following questions:
- How valid do you think your group’s interpretations are?
- What might you attribute to the success or failure of detection? How did your success rate compare to the article?
- Is there anything you might change if you were to conduct a future study?
Interpretation and discussion:
One major goal of this project is to reveal to students how difficult the interpretation of GPR data can be, and how the detection of burials requires a careful analysis of conditions and training in the subtleties of the output. It is likely that GPR in some cases may actually undercount the number of burials in conditions that are not right for detection (moisture, soil, depth). A proposed interpretation of the Shaker Village cemetery time slice is provided on the last two slides and can be communicated with students after they have conducted their interpretations.
Topic 2: Aerial Imaging
2a. Pictures Into the Past
This activity will introduce students to the concept of landscape archaeology and the types of methods that archaeologists can use to understand how humans interact with and shape landscapes over time. Using photographic images taken over the course of months, years, or even decades, archaeologists can track changes on the landscape and even re-locate archaeological features that are no longer visible.
An anthropological archaeology approach to landscapes uses material culture (including buildings and landscapes) to consider how cultures change over time in ways that can cause major environmental shifts. In this exercise, we will adopt an anthropological archaeology approach by comparing satellite images from the CORONA satellite program with images of the same places in the modern day. Because the CORONA program occurred during the Cold War, much of the satellite imagery focuses on Eastern Europe and the Near East. Students will examine the differences between the historic and modern aerial images and write their hypotheses as to what has changed. Given the ubiquity of satellites and satellite imagery today, including high resolution imagery and multispectral imagery, these methods offer some of the most cost-effective means of conducting archaeological research and tracking change over time. In rural areas and the Global South, these types of low-cost technologies provide resource-strapped communities with the ability to manage and identify their cultural heritage sites. The increasing availability of satellite imagery can help to reduce barriers to entry and further democratize the use of technology within archaeology globally.
This activity is intended to demonstrate the types of information archaeologists can gather about archaeological sites from historical aerial images and to promote critical thinking by developing and checking hypotheses. The write up phase of the module encourages students to think ‘beyond the box’ to consider how archaeological knowledge may be useful for addressing modern environmental issues. The activity will involve examining real aerial images from several sites in the Middle East. Specifically, students will be asked to make observations and develop hypotheses related to environmental change, human settlement patterns, and archaeological feature identification. If the instructor is unfamiliar with aerial imaging, they should read Casana et al. 2012: https://intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue32/casana_toc.html.
This activity is based on Jesse Casana, Jackson Cothren, and Tuna Kalayci’s article “Swords into Ploughshares: Archaeological Applications of CORONA Satellite Imagery in the Near East.”
Before beginning this module, have students organize into small groups (ideally 4-5 students per group). These are the groups they will work in for the entirety of the module. Within each group, have students designate a leader (manages group discussions and ensures group stays on task), a scribe (takes notes) a reporter (presents the group’s results to the class), and a time keeper (monitors time and planning). Ask each group’s scribe to record the roles for their group. Then ask the groups to answer the following questions:
- What types of changes to the landscape do students think will be visible from satellites? Are there changes that will not be visible? What types of markers will students use to identify those changes? In other words, how will students recognize changes in the landscape over time? Have the reporter from each group present their group’s ideas to the class.
- Do you think archaeology can be used to address issues created by climate change? If so, how? If not, why? Have the reporter from each group present their group’s ideas to the class.
a. Prepare students to engage with the activity by having them read some background information on aerial imaging technology: and the region.
Introduction to Aerial Imaging Resources: “Introduction to Small-Format Aerial Photography” by Aber, Marzoll, Ries, and Aber
b. Next, have students read about the current concerns regarding climate change in the Middle East:
United Nations 2021: People, Countries Impacted by Climate Change Also
Vulnerable to Terrorist Recruitment, Violence, Speakers
Tell Security Council in Open Debate
1. What sorts of challenges might there be to using aerial images for archaeological work? What types of benefits might arise from using aerial images?
2. Can you imagine any other uses for aerial photographs, either historic or modern?
3. How might aerial imaging help diversify the types of sites archaeologists examine?
Landscape archaeology examines people’s relationship with their environment in the past, including the ways people have modified or shaped their environments, and the ways the environment has affected people. These changes can have devastating ecological and social consequences for communities, particularly those in the Global South who have less access to means of addressing these issues. In this exercise, we will use side-by-side comparisons of CORONA images and modern aerial images to see how landscapes in the Middle East have changed due to human activity. Students will be asked to assess change over time between two images. The instructor can display the following images on the classroom projector and/or allow students to open the images on their own computers. Instructors can choose to do all three analysis exercises (b. Environmental Change, c. Agricultural Intensification, and d. Identifying Archaeological Sites), or they can have different groups focus on different analysis exercises, or they can focus on just one depending on time constraints.
b. Environmental Change
Water is necessary for life; however, human activities can have major implications for water availability. Lake Urmia in northwest Iran is one example of how bodies of water can change drastically in a relatively short amount of time. In this portion of the exercise, we will consider environmental change and its potential impact on human societies.
- Have students read Al-Otaibi 2015 about the water crisis in the Arab World
- Visit: https://corona.cast.uark.edu/atlas#zoom=8¢er=5053201,4534137
- Slide the white square on the blue bar to the right and left to toggle between the historical and modern imagery. Zoom in to the lake until it turns red. The red is caused by red algae, which have flourished as the water disappears and the salt content increases.
- Have groups take notes on the differences between the two photos. Ask groups to hypothesize what has happened to cause the difference between the two photos. Can they identify any clues in the photos as to why this has happened? Ask students to hypothesize how the visualized changes might affect life in the surrounding area in the past, today, and in the future. Have each group’s recorder write their group’s answers on the board.
- After the students have explored the images and recorded their hypotheses, read the following passage from Casana et al.:
[Lake Urmia is a] hyper-saline lake [that] was once the largest body of water in the Middle East and the third largest saline lake in the world. The expansive wetlands surrounding the lake have long provided a home to thousands of migratory bird species including flamingos, egrets and pelicans as well as supporting many other terrestrial species including wild sheep and fallow deer. Beginning in the 1970s, numerous dam projects were begun to divert water from rivers flowing into the lake for agricultural purposes and today there are thirty-five dams in the basin, with at least ten more in planning or construction phases. A major causeway across the middle of the lake has also affected the circulation of water, causing changes in salinity and water level. These interventions, combined with domestic use of water in the lake’s basin and a decade-long drought, have resulted in the lake shrinking by 60% of its size since the 1960s. Prospects for the future of the lake are uncertain, as without major changes in water management within the basin, it is on a course towards near total disappearance in the near future. The impact of the lake’s shrinking on migratory bird species is already being felt, as the increased salinity of the lake has led to a rapid decline in aquatic species on which the birds once fed. The effects on local communities are also serious, as the once thriving tourist industry on the lakefront is now largely defunct. Even more worrisome for the future is the prospect that as the lake bed continues to dry, the evaporated salts within the former basin will be carried by winds to affect farmland and water resources for hundreds of miles surrounding the lake.”
- How close were the students’ hypotheses to the actual situation at Lake Urmia? Encourage students to attempt to locate the items described in Casana’s narrative, such as dams on the lake’s tributary rivers or the causeway across the middle of the lake.
*Students who want more information about Lake Urmia can read: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20210225-lake-urmia-the-resurrection-of-irans-most-famous-salt-lake
c. Agricultural intensification
As human populations have grown, so, too, has the amount of food needed to feed everyone. However, as agricultural fields have expanded, so has the need for more water. Unsustainable approaches to agriculture combined with water stress introduced by climate change are putting food systems at high risk in many Middle Eastern countries. The differences in scale between historical agriculture and modern agriculture become clear in aerial images. Although the images will show more cultivated fields, this expansion of farming has spread resources perilously thin. In some places, the situation is forcing farmers to abandon their farms and move to cities, increasing rates of internally displaced persons, poverty, and civil unrest.
- Read selections from the Oxfam 2022 report, “Unfarmed now. Uninhabited When? Agriculture and Climate Change in Iraq”
- Visit https://corona.cast.uark.edu/atlas#zoom=11¢er=5419494,3771267
- Slide the white square on the blue bar to the right and left to toggle between the historical and modern imagery. Zoom in to some of the agricultural fields and see if they are present in both images.
- Have groups take notes on the differences between the two photos. Ask groups to hypothesize what has happened to cause the difference between the two photos. Can they identify any clues in the photos as to why this has happened? Ask students to hypothesize who the visualized changes might affect life in the surrounding area in the past, today, and in the future. Have each group’s recorder write their group’s answers on the board.
- After the students have explored the images and recorded their hypotheses, read the following passage from Casana et al.:
In many parts of the Near East, agricultural regimes have changed substantially since the 1960s, when traditional methods dating back millennia were still generally in use. Ploughing was done by animal traction; bulldozers, tractors, and harvesters were rare, and mechanised irrigation almost unheard of. Today, agriculture across many regions of the Near East has been industrialised, as state-sponsored irrigation schemes and mechanised traction have become the rule. These fundamental changes in land use practices have increased agricultural yields substantially, but have significantly affected the archaeological record across large areas. Below we highlight a few examples of such changes. A remarkable example of agricultural intensification can be seen in the plains of Khuzistan in south-western Iran. Partially inspired by the presence of ancient irrigation networks known to have thrived in the region during the Sassanian period (AD 250–640), authorities began planning major irrigation projects in the region in the 1960s. Stemming from these plans, archaeological research in the region was carried out on a large scale… Archaeological research in the region effectively ended following the revolution of 1979, but the irrigation projects planned under the Shah were implemented nonetheless… CORONA imagery from 1967 compared to that from 2009 illustrates these transformations well, showing how the entire valley has been plain levelled and large-scale irrigations works constructed.”
- How close were students’ hypotheses? Encourage students to consider how cultural change and evolution (including the introduction of new technologies) leave marks on the landscape.
d. Identifying archaeological sites
Traces of ancient archaeological sites can also appear in aerial photographs. These sites and features are oftentimes easier to see in older aerial photographs than in modern aerial photographs. Identifying archaeological features can also reveal information about how ancient societies organized themselves within the landscape. In this portion of the exercise, students will use aerial photographs to see who traces of ancient movements on the landscape can be retained or erased through new developments.
- Visit https://corona.cast.uark.edu/atlas#zoom=13¢er=4570560,4393015
- Slide the white square on the blue bar to the right and left to toggle between the historical and modern imagery. Zoom in to some of the lines radiating out of Tell Brak (in the middle of the screen).
- Have groups take notes on the differences between the two photos. Ask groups to hypothesize what the lines are and what caused them. Where do they lead from and where do they go to? Why are they missing or more difficult to see in the modern image?
- After the students have explored the images and recorded their hypotheses, read the following passage from Casana et al.:
One of the best known archaeological applications for CORONA satellite imagery has been in studies of ancient roadways in northern Mesopotamia, often manifested in radial patterns surrounding tells occupied during the 3rd millennium BC (Early Bronze Age). Now commonly referred to as ‘hollow ways’ following Wilkinson’s (1993) terminology, the linear features were first noted by Poidebard (1934) in his pioneering flights over the region, and subsequently documented more thoroughly by van Liere and Lauffray (1954) using aerial photos. Classic patterns of hollow ways form spoke-like radial patterns of linear features, extending up to 5km into fields surrounding mounded tell sites, and while some earlier scholarship questioned their function, recent analysis leaves little doubt that the features are in fact ancient roadways (Wilkinson et al. 2010). The repeated movement of animals and other traffic between settlements and pasturelands, constrained on either side by cultivated fields, resulted in the creation of deep incisions into the landscape. While these pathways eventually infilled with sediments after they were abandoned, the different properties of soil in hollow ways in terms of moisture retention, plant growth, colour, etc. make them clearly visible on CORONA satellite imagery.”
- How close were the students’ hypotheses to Casana et al.’s explanation? How is aerial imaging providing new insights into ancient land use practices? What can these “hollow ways” teach us about identifying archaeological sites in photographs?
Ask groups to write a 2 page response to their findings in the analysis activities that incorporates their answer to the prompt and questions listed below.
Students have now seen how humans can dramatically change the places they live over the span of just a few decades, and how methods based in anthropological archaeology, which explores social change through time using material culture, can help assess those changes and the reasons they occur. As the impacts of climate change increase, areas already struggling with resource scarcity issues, such as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), are going to be disproportionately affected. As students read at the beginning of the exercise, debates before the UN Security Council have suggested that water scarcity and food insecurity could lead to greater civil unrest and terrorism as desperation grows. Considering that many ancient civilizations existed in these marginal environments for centuries, what can the past teach us about addressing the current environmental crises?
- How can archaeologically-derived inform communities on sustainable practices from past civilizations? Are some types of archaeological knowledge more useful than other types of archaeological knowledge?
- Have students look up several different definitions of archaeology. Based on those definitions, does this type of work qualify as archaeology? Can archaeology be used to inform current issues? Why or why not?
- A quote from the United Nations (2021, p.14) article states, “The representative of Norway said the underlying factor [between water scarcity and terrorism] is fragility. Successfully fighting climate change and countering terrorism both depend on promoting good governance and strengthening partnerships with national and regional actors.” In your opinion, can history and archaeology inform good governance strategies? Are there any lessons from the past that can be applied to the present situation?
2b. Goats and Grasses: Identifying Archaeological Sites Using Multispectral Imagery
In this brief activity, students will explore a specific type of aerial imaging called multispectral imaging. Multispectral imaging takes advantage of different light wavelengths that humans can’t usually see. Using these different light wavelengths, archaeologists can work to identify sites in areas that are remote, dangerous to work in, and/or where little funding for archaeological research is available. For this activity, students will explore archaeological cultures in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, Africa, and learn how multispectral imaging is helping archaeologists identify archaeological sites that are difficult to see on the ground. This type of work is imperative for addressing knowledge gaps in African pre–Colonial history and makes strides towards presenting a more equitable, non-Western-dominated understanding of past human societies.
- Prepare students to read the article on Iron Age Botswana by Carla Klehm, “Trade Tales and Tiny Trails: Glass Beads in the Kalahari Desert”
- Prepare students to watch the interview with Dr. Carla Klehm (University of Arkansas). Dr. Klehm studies inequality, long-distance trade, and human-environment interactions in Africa and Europe. She is also an expert in geophysics and geospatial techniques. In this video, Dr. Klehm will explain what multispectral imaging is and how she is using it to discover new Iron Age sites in Botswana.
- Next, have students watch Sarah Parcak’s 2012 TED talk about using infrared imaging (a type of multispectral imaging) in the Faiyum of Egypt.
Post reading/viewing discussion questions
- What the some of the benefits and drawbacks of using multispectral imaging for archaeological applications?
- How do the methods in the article align with the methods as described in the interview? Do you feel like they complement each other or are they repetitive? Give specific examples.
- Can you think of other areas in the world that might benefit from aerial photography or multispectral imaging approaches? What do you think they might be able to uncover?
Ask students to write a 1 page summary of their answers to the following questions:
- How do different types of aerial imaging technologies allow archaeologists to improve their knowledge about the past?
- How do these technologies allow for a more representative and holistic view of the past?
Topic 3: LiDAR
Activity 3. Lost Cities, Colonial Fantasies, and LiDAR
This short activity examines some of the uses and abuses of LiDAR in the context of fantastic archaeology. The concept of the “lost city” is something firmly embedded in Western thought and has deep roots stemming back to the ancient Greeks (think Atlantis) and the colonial period (think El Dorado). Various permutations of such ideas capture the imagination and fueled quite a bit of archaeological exploration in Central and South America, especially in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Such themes are not necessarily in the past, however, and we see remote sensing often treated or used in a similar reference frame by the media and even by some contemporary archaeologists. In some respects, we must step back and ask why such narratives exist, and how in some ways they can perpetuate core elements of colonial thought.
Before beginning this learning module, have the students pair up or form breakout groups to answer the following questions. Write out their answers on the board.
- Which movies have you watched that deal with the concept of the “lost” city that is “found” by discoverers?
- In such films, who is typically the “discoverer” and what is their cultural background? If applicable, how is remote sensing used in these applications or which techniques are used?
a. Prepare students to view the short clip “Curse of the Lost City of the Monkey God”. This short piece ran on CBS and concerns author Doug Preston’s book. He paired with a team that used LiDAR data to locate an archaeological site in the Mosquitia region of the Honduras rainforest.
Clip: “Curse of the Lost City of the Monkey God”: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/curse-of-the-lost-city-of-the-monkey-god/
b. Next, have students read two short online articles from National Geographic “Lost City Discovered in the Honduran Rain Forest” and by Chris Begley from Sapiens “The Lost City That’s Not Lost, Not a City, and Doesn’t Need to Be Discovered”.
c. Prepare students to watch interviews with professor Dr. Christopher Begley (Transylvania University). Dr. Begley wrote his dissertation on settlements in the Mosquitia region of Honduras and has incorporated LiDAR imaging and ground survey to understand cultural changes in the region. Such information shows how fantastic claims about “lost cities” can be remnants of colonial thought and can be better understood using community archaeology and proper cultural framing of remote sensing.
- What sensationalized aspects of archaeology appear in the CBS video? You may want to even discuss some of the implications of the title alone.
- From the readings, how do the two perspectives on Ciudad Blanca differ between the authors? Why is it important to recognize such differences in the field of archaeology?
- What is Indigenous collaboration and how might it be more of an anthropological approach to doing archaeology in remote regions? Think of some of the things
Students can complete a short 1 page writeup on the following questions
- What are the major contributions of LiDAR to the field of archaeology? What are some of the ethical issues with the use of data?
- Why do you think sensationalized elements of “lost city” narratives captivate the public? How might such narratives be related to colonial thought?