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Geophysical Surveys

By: Grahame Johnston - Updated: 16 Dec 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.

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Hello, I am condering a dramatic career change. I've always been fascinated by Mediterranean history, and I think it would be interesting to work in the field of archaeology. I'm looking at graduate programs, but I think it would make sense to have some experience on digs first. Does anyone have advice for digs seeking volunteers in the Mediterranean world? Thanks, M
MAJA - 16-Dec-19 @ 10:52 AM
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
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