by Ashley Hopper
For the first time this year, we had the opportunity to use a drone to take aerial photography of our site. They did have the drone last year, however, they never got the chance to take high quality photos of the site due to some rather unfortunate mishaps. Jordan Tynes, a professor from Wellesley College visited us for a week to help teach us about the technology and take photos of the site. Kaylie Cox, a fellow student and aerial protégé, was Jordan’s assistant and took over for him when he had to leave. She is quite the expert on drone technology already.
Flying the drone is a two-person operation and requires careful coordination so the drone won’t crash. A Go-Pro camera is attached to the bottom of the drone, while photos are taken using the time-lapse setting with two photos being taken every second. While one person is controlling the drone, the other watches the timer so the battery won’t run out. The battery only lasts for eight minutes of active flying, making it very important for the co-pilot to give regular updates on how much time has passed. The highest that we have seen the drone fly over the site is 125 feet but Kaylie would not recommend going over 100 feet due to the drone’s sensitivity to wind. With such thoughtful consideration of the elements, there have not been any crashes yet!
This technology is important for archaeological sites and excavations because it can document changes from the air that might not be as noticeable from the ground. It gives us a bigger picture of how things are progressing on site and provides a different perspective for our photography. It also gives us a direct overhead view of the site compared to our photography taken from the ground, as it is not always easy to take photos from the ground due to awkward angles or positioning.
The only downside to the technology is that it can only be used in certain weather conditions. We had to learn this the hard way one day when we rushed to clean up our trench but it turned out that the wind was too strong for the drone to fly. It will be very interesting to see how drone photography on archaeological sites progresses in the coming years!