Just as Indiana Jones captivates audiences with his new adventures, EU Space technologies captivate modern archaeologists, offering new possibilities for exploration and discovery in the field of archaeology.
Modern archaeologists have made GNSS and Earth Observation their tools of choice.
Take for example GNSS, which has emerged as the tool of trade for many archaeological projects. “Before GNSS, the archaeological excavation process was both cumbersome, hands-on and physically demanding,” Shane McCartney, a consultant archaeologist at Earthworks Archaeological Services Inc., tells XY Ht magazine. “We’d be out in the field with 50-metre tapes and pen and paper in hand trying to triangulate, grid and count off the number of paces from such reference points as ‘the big pine tree next to the fence.’”
Not only is this process very slow, it’s also prone to error. That’s why archaeologists have largely ditched the tape and paper and instead rely on the precise positioning provided by GNSS. Using Galileo, Europe’s GNSS programme, they can now quickly survey a field site, accurately map the location of any uncovered artefacts and compile all the data into an easy-to-use GIS system.
EO to the rescue
The role of EU Space in archaeology doesn’t end with the excavation. After all, once an artefact or site is uncovered, it then needs to be preserved – something that’s becoming all the more challenging due to climate change. In fact, it’s estimated that as much as 5% of our 1,121 UNESCO World Heritage sites are in danger and in need of increased protection.
Here too, EU Space can help.
For instance, in Rhodes, archaeologists are using Earth Observation data provided by Copernicus Land Monitoring Service (CLMS) to monitor the impact settlement pressure is having on the island’s cultural heritage sites.
Founded in 408 B.C., the area’s rich history is still very much visible today – including parts of the ancient necropolis, monumental graves, cave sanctuaries and a Roman bridge. Unfortunately, all this important cultural heritage is being threatened by the island’s constantly shifting soil.
As part of the pan-European component of the CLMS, the European Ground Motion Service (EGMS) provides an unprecedented opportunity to study geohazards and human-induced deformation such as slow-moving landslides, subsidence due to groundwater exploitation or underground mining, volcanic unrests and many more. The EGMS also serves as a starting point for investigation of ground motion affecting buildings and linear infrastructures.
“To prevent further damage to the monuments and adopt effective conservation measures, we need accurate and up-to-date information on land deformation,” says Sotiris Patatoukos, Head of the Department of Conservation, Ephorate of Antiquities of the Dodecanese, in this video produced by Eurisy.
With the support of the EU-funded HYPERION project, authorities in Rhodes are using Copernicus data to better understand land movement and how such movement is impacting various archaeological sites. After collecting more than 100 images between 2016 and 2019, researchers discovered that the area around the Rodini cultural site had experienced a 10 mm uplift. With this information in hand, archaeologists were able to take action to stabilise the most threatened monuments.
“Facilitating the early recognition of potential risks to the monuments and allowing us to regularly monitor land deformation in the area, Copernicus is an essential tool for preserving our cultural heritage,” Vassiliki Patsiada, an archaeologist at the Ephorate of Antiquities of the Dodecanese, tells Eurisy.
So, when you’re out exploring Europe’s plethora of cultural heritage sights this summer, remember, while fedoras look great for selfies in front of the Colosseum or Acropolis, its EU Space that’s working to preserve those iconic backdrops.
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