College of Liberal Arts | Spring 2021

Drones aid archaeological research

The use of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, sparks debate on many fronts. For one College of Liberal Arts professor, drones are an innovative component of his research methodology.

“Drones are a new tool in archaeologists’ toolkits,” says Ian Lindsay, associate professor of anthropology. Lindsay has been excavating in the South Caucasus region, which spans Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, since 2000. Lindsay has long been fascinated by the pastoral societies that occupied the region centuries ago. His area of research concerns how these groups, nomadic in nature, developed political institutions and engaged in warfare during the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, or from 200 to 1500 BCE. To do this research, Lindsay and his colleagues were tasked with planning site analyses as well as unearthing artifacts and structures. Cue the drones.

Flying 300 meters from the ground, Lindsay’s drone recorded a 3:49 minute video, available on Vimeo. The video depicts lush, hilly landscapes, giving Lindsay’s team the necessary insight into preparing an excavation.

“This will be a collaborative tool for archaeologists in the region to add and edit data about field sites,” Lindsay says. “It also will be helpful to update legacy sites, which are sites that were identified or excavated but have not yet been published.” Cheaper than traditional satellite technology, the drone footage even allowed Lindsay to count the numbers of burials on the site.

Beyond the spatial analysis, Lindsay sought to examine the fortresses and other structures left behind by the civilization. “We want to understand how these structures were used politically, religiously, and socially; we also want to know about the lifestyle of people who lived in the shadow of these forts.”

The drone videos give students in a West Lafayette classroom “a sense of actually being there at the site. And it’s more engaging than just looking at a map.”