Published: Sept. 24, 2014

Three students using survey equipmentThree students using survey equipmentHigh tech devices fly high when it comes to archaeological mapping.  Professor Gerardo Gutierrez of the CU Boulder Anthropology Department has found that the right technology can free up hours of work for the archaeologist.  Gutierrez has received two ASSETT Development Awards to purchase state of the art mapping technology for his students to learn to use.  With matched funding from the Department of Anthropology, Gutierrez purchased two total stations, one Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), and related mapping software.  Taking aerial pictures with UAVs is a great improvement over more traditional mapping methods.  Until recently, an archaeologist relied upon total stations, which require hours in the field to take measurements of hundreds of points.

Gutierrez used the equipment that he purchased to conduct mapping research with his students this past spring.  They found that mapping with UAVs is more affordable and faster than is mapping with the more traditional archaeological tools. Even the initial purchase of a UAV has become more affordable in recent years: "New digital photogrammetry is emerging very fast," says Gutierrez.  Also, the UAV is smaller, more compact, and lighter in weight than is a total station.

With the ASSETT Development Award funding, Gutierrez was able to purchase software that interprets the photos from the UAV camera.  He noted that the software, "... generates high resolution georeferenced orthophotos (up to 5 cm accuracy)  and exceptionally detailed Digital Elevation Models.  This software enables students to process thousands of  aerial images on a desktop computer to produce professional photogrammetric data."  Gutierrez and his students (CU Boulder students Grace Emy, Alyssa Friedman, Melanie Godsey, and Machal Gradoz) found that it takes 27 times longer to gather data mapping with a total station than with a UAV.  They created a training model for others to use when learning to map with total stations and UAVs.  Gutierrez and his team found that even training others to map with UAVs takes much less time--3.5 times less time--than training someone to use and interpret data from a total station or a LIDAR system (mapping data taken from a piloted aircraft).  They submitted these findings to the journal, Advances in Archaeological Practices for the Society of American Anthropology.

Gutierrez led one of the four GIS ArcMap workshop sessions this spring, which were also funded by ASSETT Development Awards!  He partnered with Classics Department Professor Elspeth Dusinberre.  Further, Gutierrez has taken his equipment training across borders through a partnership with the Insitituto Nacional de Anthropologia e Historia (INAH), the Mexican government's Cultural Resource Management agency.  Gutierrez trained Mexican archaeologists in using such equipment to create archaeological maps.

Gutierrez says, "We are really grateful for the assistance of ASSETT.  Without this funding, we wouldn’t have been able to do any of this."