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Providing an archaeological bird's-eye view an overall picture of ground-based means to execute low-altitude aerial photography LAAP in Archaeology.

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Archaeological Prospection
Archaeol. Prospect. 16, 233–249 (2009)
Published online 23 July 2009 in Wiley InterScience
( DOI: 10.1002/arp.354
Providing an Archaeological Bird’s-eye
View ^ an Overall Picture of Groundbased Means to Execute Low-altitude
Aerial Photography (LAAP) in
PhD Fellowship of the Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO), Department of Archaeology
and Ancient History of Europe, Ghent University, Blandijnberg 2, B- 9000 Ghent, Belgium
Since the beginning of aerial photography, researchers have used all kinds of devices ranging from
pigeons, kites, poles and balloons to rockets in order to take cameras aloft and remotely gather aerial
data needed for a combination of research goals.To date, many of these unmanned devices are still
used, mainly to gather archaeologically relevant information from relatively low altitudes, enabling
so-called low-altitude aerial photography (LAAP). Besides providing a concise overview of the
unmanned LAAP platforms commonly used in archaeological research, this paper considers the
drawbacks and advantages of every device and provides an extensive reference list. Copyright #
2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Key words: kite; Helikite; Balloon; blimp; UAV; pole; KAP; HAP; low-levelaerialphotography; aerial
archaeology; remote sensing
Aerial photography was first used in 1858 when
Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, called Nadar by himself, took the first aerial image of Petit Bicêtre, a
village near Paris, from a tethered hot-air balloon
some 80 m above the ground (Newhall, 1982;
Doty, 1983; Colwell, 1997). Following this,
balloon photography became gradually more
established, largely helped by the development
of the dry-plate process pioneered in 1871 by
* Correspondence to: G. J. J. Verhoeven, PhD, Fellowship of
the Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO), Department of
Archaeology and Ancient History of Europe, Ghent University, Blandijnberg 2, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium.
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Richard Leach Maddox (Newhall, 1969, 1982;
Doty, 1983). It was not, however, until June 1899
that the first (European) archaeological photograph (of the forum in Rome) was taken from a
balloon by Giacomo Boni (Piccarreta, 2003;
Ceraudo, 2005; Castrianni, 2008).
Although the English meteorologist E.D.
Archibald (Hart, 1982; Velthuizen and Van Der
Loo, 1988; Colwell, 1997) claimed to have taken
aerial imagery from a kite around 1882, the lack
of any surviving imagery to prove his claim
allowed Arthur Batut to become the pioneer in
what was later called kite aerial photography
(KAP; Newhall, 1969; Velthuizen and Van Der
Loo, 1988). In 1888, Batut took the first documented aerial photographs by means of a large
kite (Batut, 1890), followed two years later by the
Received 7 April 2009
Accepted 19 May 2009
French Emile Wenz. In addition to different
ingenious man-lifting kite systems, the most
spectacular being those of the American born
Samuel Franklin Cody (Hart, 1982; Newhall,
1969; Robinson, 2003; Reese, 2006), more
unmanned solutions to acquire aerial imagery
were being developed at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. A
notable year was 1903: in addition to the first
flight of a manned, heavier-than-air motordriven machine built by Orville and Wilbur
Wright, the German Alfred Maul applied and
patented his invention to launch a camera using a
powder rocket (Figure 1A). This approach
seemed to be a far more reliable and successful
method compared to the patented proposal by
Ludwig Rahrmann of 1891 and the first photographs taken in 1897 with a small rocket designed
by the Swedish Alfred Bernhard Nobel (Newhall,
1969; Velthuizen and Van Der Loo, 1988). Also in
1903, the German engineer Julius Neubronner
experimented with breast-mounted cameras for
carrier pigeons (Figure 1B) using timers to take
pictures along the flight track of the bird (Berlin
Correspondent of the Scientific American, 1909;
Newhall, 1969; Velthuizen and Van Der Loo,
1988). Those techniques were developed further:
one noteworthy example is George R. Lawrence’s
imagery of San Francisco’s devastated buildings,
G. J. J. Verhoeven
acquired six weeks after the great fire following
the earthquake of 1906 by a train of kites to lift a
large-format panoramic camera (Newhall, 1969;
Baker, 1994). Two years later, L.P. Bonvillian was
the first to take an aerial photograph (which is
actually one frame of a motion picture) from an
aeroplane as a passenger on Wilbur Wright’s
aircraft when flying near Le Mans, France
(Newhall, 1969; Doty, 1983).
During World War I, aerial photography by
means of an aeroplane became a standard
practice (Deuel, 1973), and by the end of the
war its usefulness in civilian applications became
(commercially) exploited. To date it is this form
of aerial photography (and later on also spaceborne imaging) that has remained important and
has seen technical improvements throughout all
kinds of research fields. In European archaeology, aerial reconnaissance has, since the 1930s,
been largely characterized by individuals acquiring their own data from the cabin of a small,
relatively low flying, conventional fixed-wing
aircraft, utilizing 135 mm format (or slightly
larger or smaller) hand-held still cameras to
acquire imagery that is mostly oblique in nature.
The value of such conventional small format
aerial photography (SFAP) is obvious and has,
over the years, been subject to certain improvements such as the use of digital cameras,
Figure 1. German Army photograph of rocket squad with Maul’s equipment (A) and pigeons with cameras (B) (Newhall,1969).
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Archaeol. Prospect. 16, 233–249 (2009)
DOI: 10.1002/arp
Low-Altitude Aerial Photography in Archaeology
multispectral approaches, camera rigs, several
methods of geocoding, and combination with
satellite imagery. However, in some countries,
flying aircrafts for aerial image acquisition is
simply forbidden by the military (e.g. Anderson,
1980). Even if it is allowed, this conventional way
of image acquisition might be inconvenient and/
or logistically difficult due to weather conditions,
topographic features, flying restrictions, required
qualifications or other factors making it hard to
(safely) fly over the region of interest at an
appropriate height. On some occasions, such as
large-scale photography or narrow-band imaging, the forward movement of the aircraft is far
too fast to compensate for the situation-specific
shutter speed needed, hence creating excessive
Renting an aeroplane might also be too
expensive if only a few images from a rather
limited area are needed, which is certainly the
case when frames have to be generated on a daily
basis with a high temporal resolution. Even if all
aforementioned issues are not applicable, the
ground sampling distance (GSD; the distance on
the ground between two adjacent samples that
each form an image point or pixel) of conventional SFAP can be too broad (expressed in
decimetres rather than centimetres) to resolve the
finest details needed in research such as excavation photography, recording standing ancient
remains or capturing very narrow crop- and soilmark features.
Low-altitude aerial photography
To deal with these issues and still be able to
obtain qualitative archaeological imagery, lower
and/or slower flying manned platforms such as
helicopters (e.g. Kennedy and Bewley, 2004;
Forseth, 2007), balloons (e.g. Capper, 1907;
Whittlesey, 1971, 1974, 1975b), powered parachutes (e.g. Kvamme et al., 2004; Hailey, 2005),
gliders, paramotors (e.g. Faustmann and Palmer,
2005), and ULMs (Ultra Légers Motorisés)/
ultralight aircrafts (e.g. Agache and Bréart,
1983; Walker, 1985; Bourgeois et al., 2007;
Vermeulen, 2008) or unmanned devices such
as balloons, kites, model aircrafts, blimps and
poles are used to acquire imagery from the air.
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Although there are exceptions in both manned
and unmanned approaches, the latter systems
generally allow the radio controlled (R/C) or
action delayed (digital) still or video camera to be
more or less stationary over specific spots of
interest at particular altitudes, which is difficult
or impossible to achieve through the former,
manned platforms. Additionally, most unmanned
aerial platforms also allow the operation height to
be very low (e.g. 30 m), enabling low altitude
large-scale reconnaissance (LALSR) or low-altitude aerial photography (LAAP) (also called low
level, large-scale or close-range aerial photography) to acquire image data that even resolves the
finest details (Schlitz, 2004). However, these
systems vary a great deal in capabilities, costs,
operation conditions, flexibility and maximum
working heights. The following overview will
therefore present the ground-based means commonly used in archaeology to lift photographic or
videographic devices, and acquire close range,
large-scale aerial imagery. In addition to a short
historical note and general description, the
particular drawbacks and advantages of these
unmanned camera platforms will be mentioned
and weighed against each other.
Mast, pole or boom photography
Already employed at the beginning of the twentieth century (e.g. Kriegler, 1928) and ranging
from simple telescopic masts to ingenious,
adjustable booms (or related forms using a
bipod, tripod or quadripod, scaffold, crane,
turret, ladder or aerial bucket trucks, the latter
five being manned, however), these constructions (Figure 2) are used to document excavations
and generate large-scale plans (e.g. Guy, 1932;
Nylén, 1964; Whittlesey, 1966; Fleming, 1978;
Straffin, 1971; Klausner, 1980; Renow, 1985;
Verhoeven, 2009, and references therein). Although
the potential spatial and temporal resolution is
extremely high and these camera platforms
(except some of the manned versions such as
scaffolds and cranes) are cost efficient, portable
and extremely stable, these inexpensive systems
have the major drawback of an operation height
limited to only 15–20 m (Dorrell, 1994; Petrie,
2006). Moreover, most systems generally cast a
Archaeol. Prospect. 16, 233–249 (2009)
DOI: 10.1002/arp
G. J. J. Verhoeven
Figure 2. (A) An extendible ladder (Guy,1932, plate IV). (B) The Holmes boom (Poulterand Kerslake,1997, figure 6). (C) The phototurret (Nyle¤n,1964, figure1).
shadow on the area to be photographed (Sterud
and Pratt, 1975).
Unmanned aerial vehicles
Initially developed for purely military applications, unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs (also
know as unmanned vehicle systems (UVSs),
remotely operated aircrafts (ROAs), remotely
piloted vehicles (RPVs) or drones) are powered
aerial vehicles that do not take a human operator
aloft but fly and manoeuvre in the air autonomously or completely remotely controlled (Bone
and Bolkom, 2004; Eisenbeiss, 2004). Although in
use for intelligence gathering since the 1950s, the
first UAV used for civil mapping purposes was a
model aeroplane, reported on by Przybilla and
Wester-Ebbinghaus (1980). Together with model
helicopters (Figure 3A), both UAV types have
been equipped with cameras to obtain aerial
imagery for archaeological purposes (e.g. Miller,
1980; Schönherr, 2001; Skarlatos et al., 2003;
Eisenbeiss et al., 2005a; Bendea et al., 2007; Patias
et al., 2007; Verhoeven, 2009, and references
therein). Today, many manufacturers offer R/C
aeroplane and/or helicopter models that can lift
several kilograms of payload, but the major
drawback still is their cost and the need for an
experienced operator, because flying these systems, certainly helicopters, is far from easy
(Harding, 1989; Nyquist, 1997; Quilter and
Anderson, 2000; Tokmakidis and Skarlatos,
2000; Jones, 2003; Skarlatos et al., 2004; Eisenbeiss
et al., 2005a). Moreover, the final cost is generally
much higher than the relatively expensive price
Figure 3. (A) Example ofa radio controlled helicopter to acquire digitalaerialimagery (Eisenbeiss et al.,2005b, figure1). (B) Microdrone MD4-200 (Microdones Gmbh,2008). (C) Remotelycontrolledparaglider (Krijnen,2008).Thisfigureisavailableincolouronline
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Archaeol. Prospect. 16, 233–249 (2009)
DOI: 10.1002/arp
Low-Altitude Aerial Photography in Archaeology
of initial purchase, as the ever present risk of
crashing can largely destroy the camera and the
aircraft itself. Additionally, one needs to make
sure that the serious vibrations, induced by both
the motor and rotary wings of a helicopter (Belzner,
1962; Cheffins, 1969; Wester-Ebbinghaus, 1980;
Walker, 1985) and the airframe vibrations in a
model aeroplane (Harding, 1989), are damped.
Even if current suspension systems can largely
eliminate these vibrations, they still remain a
serious issue (Eisenbeiss, 2004). Consequently,
high shutter speeds are still needed to combat the
remaining vibrations in both types of aircraft
and the blurring effect of relative ground speed
that occurs at lower altitudes in the case of an
aeroplane (Harding, 1989; Koo, 1993; Walker and
De Vore, 1995; Thome and Thome, 2000), limiting
the application of R/C devices for photographic
situations where low amounts of reflected
radiation need to be recorded (and to very
low-altitude photography in case of the model
aeroplane). Flying a model aeroplane can also be
severely restricted when wind speed largely
exceeds 30 km h1 (Miller, 1980), and unsuited
ground might be risky to land on (Dvorak, 1997).
Finally, problems with petrol, gas and engines
(Eisenbeiss, 2004; Eisenbeiss et al., 2005a; Petrie,
2006) can also occur.
On the other hand, these devices allow for very
accurate navigation, certainly if the UAVs are
equipped with a GPS–INS (global positioning
system–inertial navigation system) combination
(Eisenbeiss, 2004; Eisenbeiss et al., 2005a, 2005b;
Nyquist, 1997). In case of the helicopter, a major
advantage is the ability to operate close to the
ground, while both helicopter and aeroplane are
also readily available (Harding, 1989). Notwithstanding, as long as the aforementioned disadvantages are not completely solved and the
birotors (e.g. Workfly’s Eyesfly) and easy-to-fly
quadrotors (such as Microdrones (Figure 3B),
Draganflyers, and Intellicopters) remain excessively expensive and their payload too small
(1 kg), the non-UAV platforms generally are
more practical to use. However, the current
technological innovations will most likely allow
these UAVs to become more powerful and their
price less prohibitive, which means that devices
such as quadrotors could become the archaeological LAAP solutions of the near future.
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
A rather new type of UAV, the so-called R/C
parachute or R/C paraglider (Figure 3C, a combination of a parachute with a motor and radio
gear suspended below; IRD, 2002; Prieur, 2003;
Parish, 2007; Krijnen, 2008) will most likely not
alter this situation. Although the many variants
of these easy-to-handle and slow flying devices
have been used in low-level archaeological
photography (e.g. Bertin, 2007; IRD, 2002)
because their payload capacity easily accommodates a (still) camera, these UAVs are also wind
sensitive (maximum wind speed is about
20 km h1; Asseline et al., 1999; Prieur, 2003;
Raclot et al., 2005), while their working principle
does not allow for hovering and keeping them at
a constant altitude is difficult (Prieur, 2003;
Bertin, 2007; Krijnen, 2008). Due to the combination of all aforementioned UAV-related issues,
kites and balloons currently are still the most
widespread used platforms to acquire low-cost,
close-range archaeological aerial imagery.
After its initial use by Sir Henry Wellcome to
stereoscopically record the Sudanese site of Jebel
Moya in 1911 (Addison, 1949; Crawford, 1955;
Deuel, 1973; Żurawski, 1993; Chagny, 2002;
Figure 4A), archaeological KAP (kite aerial
photography) was practiced only on very few
occasions (e.g. Bascom, 1941) before it became
more common in the 1970s and 1980s (Aber et al.,
1999; Chagny, 2007). Nowadays, KAP is practiced by several individuals and teams to obtain
archaeological LAAP (Table 1 and Figure 4B–D),
showing that ‘in the hands of scientists, a toy
does serious data gathering’ (Perkins, 2000, p.
186). The popularity of KAP is due to the fact that
the system is highly portable and inexpensive
(Bascom, 1941; Whittlesey, 1973; Chagny, 1994;
Hesse and Chagny, 1994; Fabre, 1999; Aber and
Aber, 2001), as the initial purchase of all
necessary material is minimal and only manpower and wind are needed to get it working,
which allows the operating costs to be virtually
zero (Anderson, 1980). Moreover, the equipment
is less fragile, smaller and lighter compared with
UAVs (Owen undated), while still accommodating a few kilograms of payload (Hanson, 2001),
Archaeol. Prospect. 16, 233–249 (2009)
DOI: 10.1002/arp
G. J. J. Verhoeven
Figure 4. (A) KiteusedatthesiteofJebel Moya (Addison,1949, plate XVI.1). (B) Multi-flarekitewithattachedcamera (Tielkens,2003,
figure 27d). (C) A delta kite taking off (Negre,1999). (D) A flying rokkaku kite (Marzolff et al., 2007, figure 2).This figure is available
in colour online at
with the exact amount largely depending on the
wind speed as well as the size and design of the
kite (Cochrane, 1980; Chagny, 1998; Negre, 1999;
Tielkens, 2003). These characteristics also made
KAP very popular in a wide variety of nonarchaeological disciplines: hydrology (e.g. Scoffin,
1982); forestry (e.g. Bigras, 1997; Aber et al., 1999,
2001); bird study (e.g. Carlson, 1997); wetland
mapping and analysis (Aber and Aber, 2001;
Aber et al., 2002); geomorphological and soil
studies (Aber and Galazka, 2000; Boike and
Yoshikawa, 2003; Marzolff et al., 2003), humanitarian purposes (e.g. Sklaver et al., 2006) and
others (e.g. Roy, 1954; Negre, 1999). Although
KAP is possible at very moderate heights
(Bascom, 1941), and therefore an excellent system
in microstructural mapping (Aber et al., 2002), the
system does not work as a tool for large-area
archaeological reconnaissance (Anderson, 1980).
In addition, KAP comes with one major disadvantage, i.e. a steady wind is required as
irregular winds are not suitable (Owen, 1993;
Chagny, 1998; Knisely-Marpole, 2001). According to the speed of the wind and the payload to be
lifted, the type of kite and its size have to be
adapted or kites must be flown in tandem (e.g.
Cochrane, 1980). In general, large, rigid kites are
applied to handle moderate winds (about 10–
25 km h1), while soft, smaller kites are best used
in stronger winds (25–40 km h1) to lift the equipment (Chagny, 1997, 1998; Aber, 2003; Aber and
Aber, 2008). Some have even used extremely
small kites (1 m3) to fly in winds surpassing
40 km h1 (Chagny, 1997, 1998). In cases where
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
the wind is insufficient, other solutions are
needed as lifting platform (Velthuizen and Van
Der Loo, 1988; Tielkens, 2003). In this respect
kites can be seen as complementary to balloons.
Balloon or blimp
In addition to their use in atmospheric and
meteorological observations (e.g. Miller et al.,
1992; Varotsos and Kondrat’ev, 2001), balloons
and blimps (Figure 5) are largely applied as aerial
platforms to monitor crops and vegetation (e.g.
Inoue and Morinaga, 1995; Pitt et al., 1996; Gérard
and Buerkert, 1999; Aber and Aber, 2001;
Miyamoto et al., 2005; Verhoeven, 2009, and
references therein), rock, soils and geomorphology (e.g. Marzolff and Ries, 1997, 2000; Friedli
et al., 1998; Boike and Yoshikawa, 2003; Ries and
Marzolff, 2003; Baker et al., 2004), hydraulics and
hydrographic networks (e.g. Rützler, 1978; Chase
and Young, 1990; Boike and Yoshikawa, 2003;
Becker, 2004), and to acquire imagery for several
other applications (e.g. Cohen and Flynn, 2003;
Derksen et al., 1997; Matthews et al., 2002).
Besides, balloon/blimp aerial photography (only
rarely called BAP) has been long established in
archaeology. The first attempt to record archaeology from an unmanned balloon was Guy’s
work at Megiddo (Palestine) around 1930 (Guy,
1932; Figure 5A), after which archaeological BAP
gained momentum in the 1960s and 1970s (e.g.
Whittlesey, 1967, 1968, 1970; Myers, 1978; see
Table 1).
Archaeol. Prospect. 16, 233–249 (2009)
DOI: 10.1002/arp
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Hot air balloon
Hydrogen weather balloon
Helium balloon (300 m3)
Hydrogen balloon (19.8 m3)
Helium zeppelin (11m3)
Different sizes of airfoil kites
Jalbert aerofoil (4.18 m )
850 m
50 m
150 m
800 m
600 m
2 or 3
500 m
100 m
300 m
300 m
250 m
100 m
Stratoscoop aerofoil Mark 3
Helium blimp (20 m )
Helium balloon (2.1 m ) and
multiflare kite
Helium weather balloon and
three kites (1.5 m2, 2.8 m2
and 4.6 m2)
Hydrogen balloon (17 m3) and
Jalbert Airfoil (3.9 m2)
Helium balloon and aerofoil
(2.8 m2)
Helium blimp (7 m3)
Hydrogen or helium blimp
(35 m3)
and kite
and kite
and kite
and kite
Hydrogen balloon
Hydrogen balloon (19.8 m )
Helium balloon
Hot air balloon (37 m )
Hydrogen balloon (15.3 m3)
50 m
250 m
Helium meteorological balloon
Meteorological balloons
(8 m3 and 13.5 m3)
Helium balloon (8 m3)
Lifting device details
Olympus E510
Zuiko 14-54 mm
Home-made 5 in 4 in
camera and Olympus OM-1
90 mm Super Angulon
lens and Olympus 28 mm
60 mm and 40 mm
Zeiss lenses for
Hasselblad and 28 mm
for Canon
Schneider Kreutsnach
ZeissTessar 40 mm
Zeiss Distagon 50 mm
Nikkor 35 mm
Zeis Distagon
50 mm/Biogon 60 mm
Canon 24 mm
Nikkor 28 mm
Zoom lens: used on
7 mm or 21mm
Pentax ME
Nikon D70
Hasselblad ELM/500 and
Canon AE-1or Nikon 2020
Linhof Technica, Graflex
XL and Nikon SLR
Olympus Stylus 800
SLR and
point-and-shoot camera
Hasselblad El-500 and
Canon AE-1
Rollei 35
Hasselblad EL 500
Zeiss-Ikon Contraflex
Nikon F2
Canon EOS 5D
Hasselblad 500 EL/M
Nikon F70
Olympus Camedia C-4040
Hasselblad EL and Nikon
Camera type
Site documentation
and mapping
Site documentation
and mapping
Site documentation
and mapping
Site documentation
and mapping
Site documentation
and mapping
Site documentation
and mapping
Site documentation
Site documentation
and mapping
Site documentation
and mapping
Site documentation
Site documentation
and mapping
Site documentation
and mapping
Site documentation
Site documentation
and mapping
Site documentation
and mapping
Site documentation
Site documentation
Site documentation
and mapping
Site documentation
and mapping
Site documentation
and mapping
Site documentation
and mapping
Site documentation
and mapping
Site documentation
and mapping
Site documentation
Archaeological use
Bogacki et al., 2008
Bell, 2005
Aber, 2003
Myers,1978; Myers and
1993,1995; Cooper and
Rubio et al., 2005
Wolf, 2006
Bauman et al., 2005
Ahmet, 2004
Whittlesey et al.,1977
Rigaud and Bouyer,1986;
Rigaud and Herse¤,1986
Kemp,1992; Owen,1993
Lubowski and Waldhusl,
Mihajlovic¤ et al., 2008
Karras et al.,1999
Kemper et al., 2003;
Celikoyan et al., 2003a,b;
Altan et al., 2004
Badekas et al.,1980
Table 1. An overview of different balloon/blimp aerial photography (BAP) and/or kite aerial photography (KAP) systems used since the 1960s to acquire low-altitude
archaeological aerial imagery. R/C DoF indicates the camera’s degrees of freedom that can be remotely controlled (0 ¼ none, camera orientation set before taking it
aloft; 1 ¼rotation or swing; 2 ¼ rotation and tilt; 3 ¼ rotation, tilt and tip)
Low-Altitude Aerial Photography in Archaeology
Archaeol. Prospect. 16, 233–249 (2009)
DOI: 10.1002/arp
G. J. J. Verhoeven
Vannini et al., 2005
Gawronski and Boyarsky,
Knisely-Marpole, 2001
Owen 2006, undated
Site documentation
and mapping
Excavation photography
Site documentation
Site documentation
Site documentation
and mapping
Site documentation
Site documentation
and mapping
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Yashica 108 MP
Box kite
180 m
150 m
Parafoil (3 m2)
Sparless aerofoil
Diamond-shaped kite
Sutton Flowform 16
100 m
900 m
Olympus OM1
Olympus C3030Z
120 m
Olympus D-580
Minolta 35-70 mm
Minolta 7000 Maxxum and
Delta Conyne and FlowForm 16
150 m
Canon AE1and home-made
5 in 4 in camera
Dunford Flying Machine 2000,
Delta 1800 and 2500
>500 m
Canon Prima 5/Olympus m1
Sonjo Rokkaku
Rokkaku (5 m ) and carre¤
japonais (2 m2)
100 m
Nikon F501
Dransart and Trigg, 2008
Site documentation
Site documentation
Nikkor 24 mm, 28 mm
and 35 mm
Canon lenses
Site documentation
Hesse and Chagny,1994;
Bretschneider, 2007
Boucharlat et al., 2003
Site documentation
and mapping
Site documentation
and mapping
Site documentation
and mapping
Site documentation
and mapping
Canon 35 mm
Canon EOS 300 and Canon
Powershot S45
Lifting device details
Table1. (Continued)
Camera type
Archaeological use
Although it was believed in the early days that
windless conditions were a condition sine qua non
(Guy, 1932), conventional blimps and balloons
filled with hot air, helium (He) or hydrogen (H)
can remain stable platforms in very light wind
conditions up to about 10–15 km h1 (Myers,
1978; Allen, 1980; Scoffin, 1982; Pitt and Glover,
1993; Marzolff et al., 2002; Aber, 2003; Aber and
Aber, 2008), above which they become very
difficult to position and hold steady (Anderson,
1980; Marks, 1989; Marzolff and Ries, 1997;
Mihajlović et al., 2008; Ries and Marzolff, 2003;
Stratus Imaging, 2006), with spherical balloons
the most unstable of these devices (Myers and
Myers, 1985, 1995). Besides sensitivity to wind,
these lighter-than-air devices can also suffer the
problems of moving and safely storing the
inflated device in addition to the cost and
availability of helium or hydrogen (Inoue et al.,
2000). After all, it might not always be possible to
purchase helium or hydrogen locally and get it
on site. In some situations, this can be a reason
not to opt for these devices (e.g. Whittlesey,
1975b; Allen, 1980; Scoffin, 1982; Owen, 1993;
Bigras, 1997; Asseline et al., 1999; Boike and
Yoshikawa, 2003; Owen, 2006). However, some
authors also point to the fact that helium allows
for very silent operation and allows the balloon/
blimp to be aloft for extended periods of time
(Marks, 1989).
Notwithstanding these disadvantages, balloon
and blimp aerial photography can be extremely
flexible to set up and operate (Buerkert et al.,
1996; Boike and Yoshikawa, 2003), and is
characterized by its ease of use and maintenance
(Marzolff and Ries, 1997), while the platform
itself is virtually vibration free (Marzolff and
Ries, 1997; Ries and Marzolff, 2003). As with
KAP, photographs from very low altitudes are
possible (Lubowski and Waldhäusl, 1980; Myers
and Myers, 1985; Marzolff and Ries, 1997),
although with BAP there is a greater risk of
photographing the tether (Anderson, 1980).
This way, it is clear that a combination of a
balloon and a variety of kites is often essential to
maximize the conditions for low-level aerial
archaeology, as using only one of these two
systems makes it more likely that attempts to
acquire large-scale aerial imagery will be compromised. However, rather than using two or
Archaeol. Prospect. 16, 233–249 (2009)
DOI: 10.1002/arp
Low-Altitude Aerial Photography in Archaeology
Figure 5. (A) Pioneering balloon archaeological photography at Megiddo (Guy,1932, plate III). (B) Hydrogen balloon photography
(Whittlesey, 1974, figure 1). (C) Helium balloon photography (Ahmet, 2004, figure 2). (D) Blimp photography (Stratus Imaging,
2006).This figure is available in colour online at
more separate lifting platforms (e.g. Whittlesey,
1968, 1974, 1975b; Aber, 2004; Ahmet, 2004; Bauman
et al., 2005; Wolf, 2006), a Helikite can be used.
The Helikite is a hybrid between a balloon and a
kite patented in 1993 and currently manufactured by Allsopp Helikites1 Ltd. By combining a
helium balloon with kite wings (Figure 6), this
lighter-than-air device combines the best properties of both platforms without incurring too much
of their disadvantages. The helium filled balloon
allows the Helikite to take off in windless
weather conditions, whereas the kite components
Figure 6. Inflating a 7 m3 Skyhook Helikite (photograph by
G.Verhoeven). This figure is available in colour online at www.
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
become important in case there is wind: first of
all, they lift the construction up in the air to
altitudes higher than the pure helium lift. Moreover, the Helikite’s lift becomes stronger with
increasing wind speed (with an upper lift limit
depending on its size). Second, the wings
counteract any unstable behaviour that is characteristic of traditional balloons and blimps flown
in windy conditions. Moreover, the construction
supports more payload for its size when compared with ordinary aerostats (Allsopp Helikites
Ltd., 2007). Due to the fact that it can be used in
adverse weather (e.g. rain, fog, freezing conditions) it might also be more flexible in operation
than most UAVs. Based on these properties,
Helikites are employed as versatile devices to lift
GPS pseudolites (Rogers, 2001) or radio and
weather equipment, they allow long-term aerial
surveillance for the military (Allsopp Helikites
Ltd., 2007) or monitor river systems (Vericat,
2008). Although limited to a moderate extent,
Helikites have been used in aerial archaeology as
well. In Italy, they are employed by a team from
Ghent University to map excavations and acquire
beyond visible information (Verhoeven, 2007,
2008a,b, 2009; Verhoeven and Loenders, 2006;
Verhoeven et al., 2009a, b). In addition to the
Egypt Exploration Society, the Amarna Trust
have more recently used a Helikite for general
survey and for detailed imagery of excavations at
Tell el Amarna in Middle Egypt (Gwil Owen,
personal communication, 2008). Furthermore,
archaeologists of the Discovery Programme (Ireland) used a small Helikite to provide the
necessary aerial images for photogrammetric
Archaeol. Prospect. 16, 233–249 (2009)
DOI: 10.1002/arp
G. J. J. Verhoeven
recording of excavations and medieval structures
(Shaw and Corns, 2008).
However, Helikites do have some important
drawbacks. It remains challenging to accurately
establish a precise camera location or take aerial
imagery along an outlined track, a problem
encountered with all forms of photography using
kites and blimps (Myers and Myers, 1980; Karras
et al., 1999; Tielkens, 2003; Skarlatos et al., 2004).
As the tether might also conflict with trees,
houses, scrub and power lines, not every place is
suited to perform HAP. Additionally, the wind
direction and topographical setting can prohibit
its position above the spot of interest. Consequently, the positioning capabilities of UAVs
still remain superior for R/C LAAP.
Although Schlitz (2004) and Walker and De Vore
(1995) identified some crucial points for a LAAP
system to be effective (e.g. low velocity, short
take-off and landing space, portability, low cost,
minimal operational staff, low vibration, reliable
power supply, fast to set up and employ, low risk
and low impact), the choice for one system over
another will largely depend on the best compromise between all device-specific limitations on
the one hand, and the topographical setting, the
weather conditions, the expertise, the (running)
costs, and the particular application on the other.
To maximally exploit the whole range of
possibilities offered by LAAP devices, one could
even use several platforms side-by-side.
Despite the fact that previous overview clearly
indicates that these devices can be applied for a
variety of archaeological tasks (see Schlitz (2004)
for a more detailed overview of archaeological
applications), documentation of archaeological
excavations and their direct environment is
generally LAAP’s main application (e.g. record
every individual phase of an excavation or
generate small-scale overviews). In addition to
their use in flyers, presentations, books and
websites, these images largely aid the final
interpretation of the excavated features by
putting things into a new perspective and
revealing minute aspects about individual features that can be overlooked in traditional plans
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
and photographs. This is the reason why
Żurawski (1993, p. 244) stated that all ongoing
excavations should have a ‘handy, reliable and
inexpensive vehicle capable of shooting aerial
pictures at a particular moment of the fieldwork’.
Moreover, low-level aerial photography has
the potential to go beyond the boundaries of
conventional documentation processes, as the
acquired aerial imagery can be used to generate
digital elevation models (DEMs), create orthophotographs with accurate metric information,
and obtain consistent maps that are distilled
faster than other, low-cost mapping techniques.
Additionally, the colour and textural information
provided by the orthorectified photographs
remains essential to complement laser scanning
(Shaw and Corns, 2008), allowing the generation
of photorealistic three-dimensional site representations in past landscape settings. The fact that
this approach is not restricted to conventional
sites has been illustrated by several studies where
such unmanned platforms were used to map
underwater remains (e.g. Jameson, 1976; Whittlesey, 1968, 1970; Myers and Myers, 1980).
Although not suited for extensive reconnaissance, most unmanned systems can also be used
to monitor sites and their direct environment
because they permit the acquisition of imagery at
very specific time intervals and enable a fast
response to events. In addition, new site-based
imaging techniques can be exploited, as it is often
only a matter of lifting the appropriate device. In
this way several archaeological studies have
utilized close-range near-infrared photography
(e.g. Aber et al., 2001; Verhoeven and Loenders,
2006; Wells and Wells, 2009; Whittlesey, 1973),
and also the less straightforward near-ultraviolet
(e.g. Verhoeven, 2008a, 2009) and thermal
imaging (Jessup and Clark, 2008) have been
proved possible.
Several unmanned devices allow for archaeological ground-based, low-level photography, but
this does not mean that they can be applied
equally successful in every possible situation.
When deciding upon which platform to choose,
archaeologists should take all device-specific
Archaeol. Prospect. 16, 233–249 (2009)
DOI: 10.1002/arp
Low-Altitude Aerial Photography in Archaeology
drawbacks and advantages into consideration.
Some situations might even ask for several
platforms. Irrespective of the platform chosen,
however, all of them will be more cost effective,
offer a larger flexibility, and yield superior results
when compared with site-based aeroplane photography if imagery has to be generated on a
frequent basis and/or has to meet certain
requirements (slow shutter speed, high resolving
power). Although LAAP has been applied by
various researchers, its application is expected to
increase in popularity due to the decreasing cost
of UAVs on the one hand, and the digital
(r)evolution of photographic cameras on the
other. Because the latter offer instantaneous
feedback, LAAP results contain far less imponderables with results that become virtually
predictable, while the capacity of current memory
cards allows the airborne time to be maximized.
This paper arises from the author’s PhD which
studied the application of remote sensing in
archaeological surveys. The research was
conducted with the permission and financial
support of the Fund for Scientific Research –
Flanders (FWO) and is supervised by Professor
Dr Frank Vermeulen (Department of Archaeology and Ancient History of Europe, Ghent University). Finally, Karen Ryckbosch and Lieven
Verdonck are acknowledged for proofreading
the article.
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