LiDAR – or how technology can help archaeology

caracol7
A 3D LiDAR map of the Maya site of Caracol in Belize
old and new
Before and After
(copyright of both images: A&D Chase)

For centuries, the common way of finding archaeological sites was to prospect for possible signs of early settlements and then proceed to dig and hope for the best. Thankfully, a revolutionary tool called LiDAR has made this prospecting job a much easier task, by mapping the ground and reveal structures and objects that would have otherwise remained invisible.

Used in the 70s by the US army for space exploration, LiDAR’s technology is based on laser sensors shining from the air to the ground, emitting a pulsation of light that is then reflected back and measured. The data gathered by the pulses are then computerised and used to build a 3D map of a geographical zone. This method has led to amazing discoveries such as a lost Mayan city in 2010.
Although this new technology has its flaws: it doesn’t work underground or through densely wooded areas, it remains a major advancement and an incredible tool for the archaeology of today and tomorrow.