Beyond the Basemap: Site and Landscape Survey through Low Altitude Aerial Photogrammetry and Mobile GIS in the Andes

Presenters: Steven A. Wernke (Vanderbilt University), Julie A. Adams (Vanderbilt University), Eli Hooten (Vanderbilt University), Gabriela Oré (Vanderbilt University), Carla Hernández (Vanderbilt University), Aurelio Rodríguez (Independent Scholar), and Giancarlo Marcone (Proyecto Qhapaq Ñan, Ministry of Culture of Peru)

With the rapid development of UAVs (“drones”), photogrammetry, and mobile GIS, archaeology is at the cusp of major transformations in the basic methodologies for recording spatial and observational data at virtually all scales of analysis. We present a system for rapid low-altitude aerial survey and feature documentation using UAVs and lighter than air platforms, coupled with mobile GIS for intensive site survey. Starting at sea level and stepping up the vertical landscape of the Andes, we document sections of a major transverse Inka highway between the coast and highlands, documenting the road, its surrounding cultural landscape, and imperial logistical nodes. The data collection and processing production chain used to produce raster- and vector-based representations of archaeological settlements, features, and landscapes is presented. We document features made of waddle and daub (coast), adobe (coast and mid-elevation), and stone (highlands) in distinct terrain and ecological contexts. Subjects of analysis include imperial installations, settlements, and sections of the royal Inka highway and its environs.  We discuss appropriate UAV designs and specifications for different environmental contexts and archaeological subjects. Secondly, we present a paperless, mobile GIS system for attribute registry, including architectural survey, intensive surface collections, and lichenometric dating. Together, high-resolution photogrammetry and mobile GIS provide richer, faster, and more cost effective data registry than traditional methods. We envision a near future in which UAVs and other low altitude platforms will become a commonplace means of extending the observational capabilities of research archaeologists and caretakers of archaeological patrimony.