Archaeology must move forward with technology

Archaeology plays a vital role in the construction industry and one firm in particular is challenging some old school perceptions

Headland Archaeology is working tirelessly to improve efficiencies by investing in advancing technologies. Tim Holden, managing director at Headland Archaeology, explains.

Archaeologists focus is to record features and findings, preserving them by record before they are destroyed for ever. Traditionally this has taken the form of drawings, written descriptions and photographs, which is time consuming and sadly at times not as accurate as we would like.

As time moves on, industry is majorly benefitting from advancements in technology, and archaeology is no exception.

We have a proactive R&D department at Headland whose sole aim is to improve efficiency through the use of technology. Clients, now more than ever, are focused on protecting their bottom line. It’s therefore vitally important for us to enhance our service offering to ensure we can meet their financial limitations and save them both time and money.

We have had a digital survey system in place for many years but due to recent technical developments we are beginning to use these in conjunction with photogrammetry to produce fully dimensioned 3D digital models.

This technique works really well across a range of features including underground archaeology and upstanding features such as standing walls and even whole buildings.

The technique requires us to take numerous digital photos from various positions and angles, including a bird’s eye view. The photogrammetry software then combines all the various images and effectively creates a 3D photograph which can be rotated and interrogated.

This becomes the primary record of many excavated features with sections, elevations and plans all being produced to millimetre levels of accuracy not previously possible.

There is still the traditional element where publications will require line-drawings, which can be prepared quickly and accurately using computer software, but this technique really comes into its own when used within online publications, which are becoming increasingly popular.

Archaeologists and clients can use the images to boost online presentations, bringing the excavation to life.

We have spent time researching how this technology can add to the record and how we can save time producing the detailed, and now largely redundant, pencil and tracing paper drawings.

Our technical team are continuingly finding new ways to adapt these methods and we have undertaken a rolling training programme to ensure all our strong team, across our office network, are trained to use this technology.

Clients, particularly architects, have been impressed with this new method, particularly as an alternative to standard survey and expensive laser scans and the feedback has been really encouraging.

Our adoption of photogrammetry for everyday on-site recording also allows us to effectively contribute to any Building Information Modelling (BIM). We can produce low-cost scanning data from our monitoring work, which can be fed into the BIM project to inform decisions on construction plans down the line.

For example, we could provide a 3D model of archaeological deposits which could impact the placement of services, foundations and temporary enabling works on site.

We are encouraged by the improvement in our service thanks to adopting the right technology and it’s important that archaeologists are investing in new techniques and methods to ensure they are not living up to the dinosaur stereotype.

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