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Using UAVs to Map an Ancient Wonder of the World

Patrick Meier is using UAVs, popularly called “drones”, to map out archaeological sites and aid humanitarian and environmental efforts. He partners with institutions around the globe to bring us amazing, interactive community projects and, of course, stunning aerial photos.

It isn’t every day that we get to fly drones over one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Thanks to our intrepid partners and hosts, the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University (NYU) and the Austrian Archaeological Institute, we’ve just returned from an amazing week in southern Turkey where we flew over ancient theaters and temples dating as far back as the 10th century B.C. We’ll be publishing a longer, more detailed blog post on our Drone Adventures once we’ve had the chance to analyze all the imagery. In the meantime, we’re excited to share a quick overview of the project.

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In the background, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—the Temple of Artemis. (Photo by Patrick Meier)

While we made up the term “airchaeology”, we define it as the study of human activity in the past, conducted from the air in the present. Our airchaeology expedition in southern Turkey included dozens of flights over the ancient cities of Aphrodisias and Ephesus. Here’s one of the resulting high-resolution aerial maps we produced for Aphrodisias:

This was the first time that archaeologists at these excavation sites used UAVs to support their research. Why do they need high-resolution aerial imagery and 3D models? An archaeologist and an architect working in Aphrodisias discuss the need for “airchaeology” in this short video:

Have a look at the photo gallery below to get a sense of the terrain and structures we surveyed with Ben, Andrew, and the team. While you may not be able to tell from these pictures, it was hot—very hot! Which is another reason why Ben and Andrew would rather have the UAVs take on the Turkish sun than do it themselves.

Stay tuned for our follow-up post which will include detailed 3D models, high-resolution images and more videos of our “airchaeology” expedition in southern Turkey. For now, we leave you with the two aerial images below as teasers along with these tweets/pics from the field.

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A high-resolution aerial images of the theater in the ancient “City of Aphrodite” (Aphrodisias). (Photo by Patrick Meier)
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This second image, captured in infrared, enables archaeologists to find patterns vis-a-vis the vegetation, which may reveal underlying structures.(Photo by Patrick Meier)

Patrick Meier is a 2012 National Geographic Emerging ExplorerHe is the author of the forthcoming book “Digital Humanitarians: How Big Data is Changing the Face of Humanitarian Response” (2015). Patrick also authors the widely respected iRevolution blog and tweets at @patrickmeier.

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