Prospecting Archaeological Landscapes – State-of-the-art in remote sensing and geophysical prospection


The main demand on professional archaeological prospection is its ability to cover large areas in a time and cost efficient manner with very high spatial resolution and accuracy. In order to be able to protect archaeological landscapes, these have to be identified and documented, which for various reasons presents an archaeological challenge: The massive threat of destruction and deterioration of buried cultural heritage demands for fast, efficient and reliable methods for its identification, documentation and interpretation. At the same time, the European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (Valletta-Convention) states that non-destructive investigation methods should be applied wherever possible (ETS N143, article 3). Therefore, large-scale applications of non-invasive archaeological prospection methods (e.g. aerial archaeology, airborne laser scanning (ALS), airborne imaging spectroscopy (AIS) and all kinds of near-surface geophysical prospection like magnetometry and GPR) comprise a great potential. These methods offer the most appropriate solution in order to provide both landscape archaeologists and planning authorities with the necessary spatial information at multiple scales, ranging from the archaeological site to a complete archaeological landscape. However, scientific archaeological prospection requires the implementation and adherence to the highest technical standards in regard to instrumentation, spatial sampling intervals, positioning accuracy, data processing and visualization, as well as appropriate novel methodological concepts for the archaeological interpretation of individual sites and archaeological landscapes. This requirement demands coordinated fundamental research aimed at the development and improvement of new ways to acquire the basic data sets, and to extract their archaeologically relevant information by means of well-thought, integrative interpretation tools. The objective of the 2010 in Vienna established Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology (LBI ArchPro) is the advancement of the state-of-the-art by focusing on the development of remote sensing, geophysical prospection and virtual reality applications, as well as of novel integrated interpretation approaches dedicated to non-invasive spatial archaeology combining cutting-edge near-surface prospection methods with advanced computer science. The LBI ArchPro is based in Vienna, but integrates a Europe-wide partner consortium, representing academic and research institutions, archaeological service providers, and governmental authorities from Austria, Germany, Great Britain, Norway, and Sweden. The collective resources and expertise available amongst the new research institute and associated partners permit innovative approaches to the archaeological exploration, documentation and investigation of the cultural heritage contained in entire archaeological landscapes. Within the research programme, various geographical areas have been selected in order to provide different archaeological landscapes for distinct case studies. This includes Stonehenge (UK), Roman Carnuntum (A), Birka (S), Uppåkra (S), Gokstad (N) and Kaupang and its Hinterland (N). Here, all non-invasive, methods and techniques mentioned above are combined, including remote sensing, geophysical prospection, Virtual Reality and dynamic GIS-based integrated archaeological interpretation. The proposed presentation will focus on the state-of-the-art developments and their application in the case-study areas demonstrating an integrated approach for the prospection of complete archaeological landscapes. Initial projects in the province Shanxii, China applying terrestrial laser scanning, magnetometry and ground penetrating radar at the sites Zhaoling and Qianling proved many of the developed methods as particular helpful for the detection and documentation of cultural heritage in Chinese loess soils. These primary results will be compared to the state-of-the-art and perspectives for future large scale archaeological prospection will be discussed.