Several medieval cities, entombed beneath the forest floor in Cambodia have been found by archaeologists: the biggest is said to match the modern Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, in size. The Dialogue So that you can map these ruins an archaeologist would had consumed their whole career hacking through the jungle, machete in hand. But thanks to the intelligent use the whole job took only three years. Such is the unbelievable ability of Lidar brief for light detection and ranging an initiation that is causing great excitement through the archaeological world.
Lidar was initially developed to benefit space exploration, it was used to map the surface of the moon. The technology uses lasers to measure space as its name implies. When linked into a high precision GPS and mounted on an airborne platform, like chopper or an airplane, it can create a three dimensional point cloud of the land surface beneath. This technology is really exciting for archaeologists. Can it fast map enormous regions of landscapes that are historical, but the lasers are really competent to see by recording several reflections from one pulsation and by multiple scans through” plant life. By carefully selecting the right season, when the leaf coverage is reduced, it’s not impossible to record landscapes in tropical ecosystems an effort which earth-based archaeologists have consistently had great trouble with, as a result of frequently poor GPS reception and compact plant coverage.
Although they’ve made great rock monuments, archaeologists have many unanswered questions about how they worked, how big they were and where their people resided. Likewise, in Africa, we understand little about the great kingdoms of Benin or Kongo, which are mostly covered in woods. Lidar may well help us locate solutions to a few of these questions. In Honduras, a lot of historical sites are discovered belonging to some culture that was mostly unknown.
These results are more than merely pretty images of historical sites. They will have the possibility to challenge our understanding of the failure of early civilisations. By way of example, they reveal that many places supported critical people, and that were once considered to be rainforest, really was previously cleared. Additionally they reveal that big cities, encompassed many of the great ceremonial centers which are engulfed in leaves, with populations of hundred of thousands or even millions of individuals.
In often-delicate ecosystems, reliant on a climate that is constant, it’s now much more easy to see how environmental change might have led to the fall of these early civilisations. Consequently, many thoughts about the fall of ancient societies, like those encouraged by Jared Diamond who emphasises economical, political and societal variables may need some reconsidering that is major.
There are, needless to say, several issues with this technology. One is price: accessibility to both the airplanes and the gear would be restricted for most archaeologists, although the Cambodia survey was generously financed by the European Research Council. Some of the landscapes may be too distant to reach by helicopter or light aircraft, or such flights may be banned by local authorities. At present there have been only small examples of the use in tropical zones, although setting Lidar technology may solve this problem later on. Given the scale of a few of these sites, and the minimum height needed (around 800m) an airplane will stay the preferred approach for now.
There’s also the issue of ground truthing. They do need cautious interpretation and validation while these Lidar pictures are amazing. Some may well reveal characteristics that are historical, but others may not be fairly ancient in origin.