Revolutionizing Archaeology: Flying Lasers Reveal Buried Historical Structures
Archaeology is being revolutionized by remote-scanning techniques that use lasers to detect otherwise invisible ground features. The technology digitally extracts vegetation for a clean image of the earth’s surface. Archaeologists in Germany have already discovered thousands of new sites.
The Glauberg is a hot spot for archaeologists. For decades, researchers have been studying the hill in the central German state of Hesse, where people settled some 7,000 years ago.
Over the millennia, the plateau was inhabited by Celts and Alemanni and, in the Middle Ages, people there built castles that reached for the sky. Accordingly, researchers have found plenty of artifacts. In 1996, they made the sensational discovery of an almost perfectly preserved statue of a Celtic warrior, which is now known as the Celtic Prince of Glauberg.
It was thought unlikely that the mound would yield any more big surprises. At least that was the assumption until people with flying lasers showed up. They flew an airplane over the Glauberg multiple times, sending pulses of light to the ground and measuring their echoes. This “light detection and ranging” technology, known as LIDAR, helps scientists record differences in altitude down to just a few centimeters. Trees and bushes are no obstacle to accurate measurements — they can simply be calculated out later with a computer. What remains is a three-dimensional image of the naked earth’s surface, including geometric formations that betray any structures that might be hidden underground.
The researchers were fairly stunned by what the remote-sensing technology turned up on the Glauberg. At first glance, they recognized around a dozen potential burial mounds that they hadn’t known about before. “We went and took a closer look at five of them,” says Axel Posluschny. “They were all burial mounds.”