1.2 LIDAR and archaeology

Prior to 2000, LIDAR was a little-known and unexploited technique by archaeology (Crutchley 2009, 181). Uptake of LIDAR technology in British archaeology began in earnest at the Stonehenge World Heritage Site in 2001. The project afforded the opportunity to combine and contrast LIDAR-derived analysis with sites mapped from aerial photographic collections of the area. Analysis of LIDAR data revealed a small number of new sites and provided substantial additional data for previously recorded sites (Crutchley 2009, 183). Larger scale LIDAR surveys followed and, in 2006, extensive surveys focusing on the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, yielded impressive results revealing over 2000 features of archaeological significance (Hoyle 2008, 110). Considerable debate regarding processing techniques best suited for archaeological prospection following the introduction of LIDAR resulted in publication of several formative articles (Devereux et al. 2008; Challis et al. 2011; Bennett et al. 2012). As a result, a multi-proxy approach is currently recommended using a variety of visualisations on LIDAR processing methods (Challis et al. 2011, 288; Bennett et al. 2012, 47). In addition, full-waveform airborne laser scanning methods are now being utilised with more frequency. This technique digitises the entire analogue echo waveform and facilitates more accurate surface models to be created by obtaining data from weaker returns (Doneus et al. 2008, Crutchley and Crow 2009, 6).

The increasing availability of LIDAR data across Europe has improved the access to data for historic environment professionals and academic institutions (Hesse 2009, 637). LIDAR has been employed by archaeologists across the theoretical spectrum of the discipline, from a visibility analysis tool to assessing erosion threats to heritage assets (Kincey and Challis 2010). Recent research examining the benefits to Historic Environment Records (HER) has demonstrated the value of LIDAR to heritage management. The study examined a 25km area of the Dove Valley managed by the Derbyshire and Staffordshire HER departments and found that 84.4% of sites recorded through transcription of the LIDAR data were absent from the HER database. However, the sites identified through this study may not necessarily be 'unknown' and may appear in databases hosted by English Heritage or other institutions, with the discontinuity between HER and LIDAR transcription potentially reflecting the tendency of HER databases to omit field systems and other large-scale landscape features (Challis et al. 2008, 1058).

Despite the high cost of LIDAR data survey, archaeological projects such as the Habitats and Hillforts Landscape Partnership Scheme commissioned a de novo survey to provide a dataset that has proved invaluable by aiding interpretation and facilitating visualisation outputs (Cheshire West and Chester Council 2012). Recently, there has been an increase in the desire to harness non-expert LIDAR transcription and validation, which has been successfully trialled in the Wyre Forest (Mindykowski 2010). However, in the UK at both local and national government levels, there is a trend towards the commodification of geographic data, where the dissemination of data is moderated and regulated to ensure data cost recovery and profit (Capes 1999, 67-82). Unfortunately, there is no centralised repository in the UK for LIDAR data; the Geomatics Group, a specialist business division within the Environment Agency, currently distributes the most extensive LIDAR data collection (MoRPHE 2012, 14). Yet the value and temporal quality of a LIDAR dataset for primary use theoretically depreciates or alters over time as the landscape changes. Conceivably, there is scope to allow the continued use of such datasets, once recovery of data cost is achieved, in order to play an active role furthering a diverse range of research agendas if made more freely available through shared access schemes or publicly accessible data repositories such as the Archaeology Data Service (ADS).

Within the field of archaeology, methods that allow re-evaluation and application of legacy data are gathering momentum with schemes such as the CAA Recycle Award, designed to encourage data reuse (University of Southampton 2012). It is possible that the rise in community and grassroots groups commissioning and utilising LIDAR will illustrate benefits and create a 'bottom up' capture infrastructure similar to that demonstrated by 'bottom up' open-source cartographic products like OpenStreetMap and challenge the commercial commodification of geospatial data, allowing for a more cooperative and non-profit philosophy to develop (Dodge et al. 2011).


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