For archaeologists, an ever-changing physical and political landscape poses challenges to identifying, assessing and preserving ancient sites. It’s a race against the clock given shrinking budgets, climate change and human intervention. Recently, however, satellite imagery has taken on an important role in the discovery process with not only the help of high resolution imagery itself but specifically the near-infrared band commercially available on WorldView-2 .
The need to understand soil composition
Many ancient landscapes are obscured by modern development, making it difficult and, at times, impossible to locate important archaeological features. Surface vegetation and soil composition hold a key to what lies beneath. The presence of mud brick, for example, a common and ancient building material, has a direct effect on the soil moisture and vegetation above as it degrades.
“The high-resolution and near-infrared imagery generated by satellites like WorldView-2 detects those subtle changes to the soils where magnetometers and other traditional survey methods do not,” explains Dr. Sarah Parcak, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “It enhances our ability to pinpoint areas of interest that will likely require further survey and potential excavation.”
How will WorldView-3 enhance the industry?
High-resolution satellite imagery, like that from DigitalGlobe’s constellation of five satellites, currently helps the archaeological industry with mapping, cadastral, elevation data, feature extraction and soil classification in a cost-effective manner. Now with the launch of Worldview-3 just weeks away, the archaeological community is even more excited for the capability of Short-Wave Infrared (SWIR) – adding spectral coverage to the invisible range to help identify things like minerals and specific vegetation. This enhancement will allow archaeologists to be able to detect sites more easily and to ask more relevant questions about those ancient landscapes.
But don’t take it from us; hear Dr. Sarah Parcak speak about what the launch of WorldView-3 means to her and how it will be a “game-changer” for archaeologists everywhere!