Home > Field Archaeology > Geophysical Surveys

Geophysical Surveys

By: Grahame Johnston - Updated: 7 Jan 2019 | comments*Discuss
 
Geophysical Archaeology Non-invasive

Geophysical probing on archaeological sites is a rapid non-invasive, non-destructive data gathering method that does not disturb the topography or the archaeological record of the site.

Investigating Under Buildings

It is especially useful on locations where sites cannot be archaeologically excavated. Some examples of difficult or impossible to excavate sites would include protected or historic buildings such as churches and ancient pyramids, public parks and areas that now lie underneath modern residential or commercial developments.

In some circumstances the nature of the overbuild may totally restrict any archaeological research to only geophysical exploration.

The Beginnings of Geophysical Archaeology

Prior to WW2 some electronic methods had been used in the exploration of oil and other crucial mineral deposits. Because oil revenue dividends were lucrative, companies were happy to release large budgets for geophysical research and development.

World War Two saw an explosion in geophysical sophistication and high quality, land-based, ground-penetrating instruments were developed. The rapid wartime evolution of earth probing equipment washed over into archaeology and was further pushed by the modern paradigm of less interference to the topography, both natural and artificial.

In contrast to the multi-national petroleum giants, archaeological field budgets are extremely modest and cannot afford the high-tech equipment used by oil and mineral exploration companies. However, fortunately for archaeologists, unlike oil, the archaeological record, containing ancient artefacts, does not lie many miles under the earths crust but usually only a few metres underground.

Therefore, less expensive, smaller scale devices can be employed that use the same technology.

Establishing What’s Under the Ground

Archaeologists can be assisted ahead of the main intrusive excavation by establishing digging priorities using geophysical methods. Ground penetrating systems can reveal high yield, artefact-laden subsoil verses empty, artefact-absent, barren ground and save valuable time and money.

Large archaeological sites will often take many decades of careful excavation to complete the data gathering. Geophysical survey permits even large sites to be rapidly explored from above in a matter of days with the results being available for immediate analysis. The evaluation of a geophysical survey may determine whether an expedition will be raised or a current one abandoned.

Methods of Geophysical Survey

Ground Penetrating Radar

GPR was invented, primarily for military purposes, to locate buried mines and underground tunnelling. Archaeologists have adapted this technology for use in above ground and borehole investigations. In borehole surveys radar probes are lowered into previously drilled holes on an archaeological site allowing geophysical data collection at numerous depths. Cavities or caves that are found can be further explored by inserting a video camera down the hole.

Most often, GPR’s are mounted on small, wheeled carts that are hand pulled across the site. The area needs to permit free and easy movement being clear of large rocks, trees, or buildings.

The system displays echoed radar pulses and a trained operator can interpret these as to the target of interest. Some limitations of GPR are the unwanted reflective echoes known as clutter, limited penetration depths, and attenuation caused by clay soils or wet soils with high salt concentrations.

Metal Detectors

The wide variety of metal detection devices available and their low cost makes them readily accessible to even the enthusiastic amateur archaeologist.

Metal detectors are battery powered, active instruments that radiate a low frequency AC signal into the ground via a transmitting coil. The larger the coil the deeper the penetration of the signal. Any metal object in the signal path will cause an induced current to re-radiate a weaker signal back to the surface and being non-aligned to the initial frequency is easily read by the receiving coil.

Metal detectors have there own limitations. Small metal objects, such as coins, can only be detected to a depth of a few inches. Large objects, such as a steel helmet, could perhaps be detected up to a few metres but no more than four metres. Power lines, high-density-metal surface objects, iron-rich rock, and metallic litter can all cause noise for metal detectors.

Better Planning

Many archaeological sites are unidentified, complex, or too important to just roll in with a digging team and begin to blindly excavate. Some sites will be excavated for many digging seasons and geophysical methods can assist the archaeologist to prioritise the field attack based on the results of a thorough geophysical survey.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
[Add a Comment]
Hi, I am a graduate in arts with specialization in international politics and history, do let me know if you need any volunteers
Nandy - 7-Jan-19 @ 9:29 AM
I found ancient creatures that include fossils, paintings and rock paintings, and their three-dimensional design, which, according to their size, relate to different periods. They have several heads, are higher than insects, and two tentacles Long, big eyes and lower head are like humans, and some of them have spatial hats. All of them are like ancient Egypt, and their garments are like the body of a donkey. They are like Pharaoh and they are very skilled in drawing and painting. And they have drawn many images of social life and ritual ceremonies. They make their shape by creating waves of everything, such as the rock of the earth or everything. Their activities have increased in the past 60 days? To prove it is possible to record with the camcorder and see. How can I record this research with my name?
arman - 20-Oct-17 @ 8:27 AM
I am a 1st year Archaeology undergraduate looking for fieldwork/excavation experience during 2017. Please email me if you need volunteers.
Donna - 14-Dec-16 @ 6:34 AM
I Need ideas and guidance about archaeology
EL~Bash - 17-Mar-16 @ 9:11 PM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
Title:
(never shown)
Firstname:
(never shown)
Surname:
(never shown)
Email:
(never shown)
Nickname:
(shown)
Comment:
Validate:
Enter word:
Topics
Latest Comments
  • Usha
    Re: Be a Volunteer Archaeologist
    I completed my post graduation from ancient Indian history, culture and archaeology from India. Would you please give me any…
    23 August 2019
  • geoff
    Re: Etched Vase: How to Discover its Origins?
    Hello I have found a large debris field of rocks in my forest and some of the rocks look like they have had some…
    21 August 2019
  • Kritter
    Re: Stone Tool Experts
    I would like to see your response to Babs comment please
    19 August 2019
  • Rol
    Re: Types of Archaeology
    Hello there, I did general archaeology in my undergraduate degree at UDSM and i think that gave me an idea of what type of an archaeologist…
    19 August 2019
  • Fox
    Re: Be a Volunteer Archaeologist
    Greetings, I am an archaeologist and it is a very though career, I must say. While I am not able to continue my career as an…
    14 August 2019
  • Ganesh
    Re: Being Aware of Fake Archaeological Artefacts
    Very much informative post in India there r many sites where you get lots of artifact a genuine one at…
    10 August 2019
  • Minku
    Re: Types of Archaeology
    I am 25 years old And I can't decide what types of archaeologist I want to be
    31 July 2019
  • Noah
    Re: Be a Volunteer Archaeologist
    Hi I am 17 and a student living in Cornwall. I am hoping to study archaeology or ancient history at university and would love the…
    30 July 2019
  • prof
    Re: Types of Archaeology
    hey am Malvin am from Zimbabwe, am an archaeology graduate. Archaeology is very much interesting, there are so many types of archaeology cox…
    26 July 2019
  • Babs36
    Re: Stone Tool Experts
    Hi, I live fairly close to known Indian mounds in the Midwest. they have artifacts that date back to 800bc. They have also found the skeleton…
    24 July 2019