Drone's-Eye View Helps Archaeologists Plan Excavation

3D-model 200As Crow Canyon archaeologists begin to plan next year’s excavation at the Haynie site, they’re getting help from an eye in the sky: a drone that takes extremely high-resolution images.

Crow Canyon contracted with a drone operator to fly over the five-acre Haynie site north of Cortez, where the Northern Chaco Outliers Project will kick off next spring. Hundreds of drone photographs will supplement more than 3,000 ground-based images which will be “stitched” with high-tech software that matches pixels on separate photos and accurately merges them to create larger images.

The result is an extremely precise three-dimensional model of the site that can be viewed from multiple directions. For example, it can map the height of standing masonry to a resolution of two centimeters. Drone-borne infrared photography can also highlight subtle features that the human eye, unaided, might not notice.

“It provides a highly accurate foundation to start looking at spatial relationships of features, and provides a great record of existing architecture,” said Grant Coffey, GIS (geographic information systems) archaeologist at Crow Canyon.

As well as providing a working model for when archaeologists begin excavating at Haynie, the images also will comprise a visual archive of the site’s current condition as excavations unfold during the four years of the project. Ultimately, it will also serve as a preservation tool helping archaeologists determine how much material will be needed to backfill currently open structures for future preservation.

“It’s a tool for planning and preservation, and an archive,” Coffey said.

The technology is not brand new, but both the software and hardware involved have become more refined in recent years, and thus more available to archaeologists.

The photography took place during the week of July 11, and the high-resolution images are now being processed. Analyzing them will occupy much of the winter, and then they’ll be available for future reference as excavation progresses.

The Haynie site is part of a Pueblo II-era (A.D. 950–1150) village that includes two Chacoan great houses. The ancestral Pueblo inhabitants of the Haynie site were part of the larger Lakeview group, which includes the two great houses at Haynie and two others located nearby on private land. This makes the Lakeview group one of the densest concentrations of great houses found north of Aztec Ruins National Monument.

Full-time excavation will begin during the 2017 field season, and the project will continue through 2020. In addition to Crow Canyon’s professional archaeologists, participants in Crow Canyon’s adult excavation programs and educational programs, including school groups, teen camps, and College Field School, will excavate at the Haynie site. The public will not be allowed to visit the site without being part of a Crow Canyon program.

See more information about Crow Canyon’s Archaeology Research Program, in which citizen scientists participate in excavation and archaeological research. Spaces are still open for 2016 sessions.

 

 

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