Are We There Yet? A Review and Assessment of Archaeological Passive Airborne Optical Imaging Approaches in the Light of Landscape Archaeology


Archaeologists often rely on passive airborne optical remote sensing to deliver some of the core data for (European) landscape archaeology projects. Despite the many technological and theoretical evolutions that have characterised this field of archaeology, the dominant aerial photographic surveys, but also less common approaches to archaeological airborne reconnaissance, still suffer from many inherent biases imposed by sub-par sampling strategies, cost, instrument availability and post-processing issues. This paper starts with the concept of landscape (archaeology) and uses it to frame archaeological airborne remote sensing. After introducing the need for bias reduction when sampling an already distorted archaeological population and expanding on the `theory-neutral' claim of aerial survey, the paper presents eight key characteristics that all have the potential to increase or decrease the subjectivity and bias when collecting airborne optical imagery with passive sensors. Within this setting, the paper then offers some technological-methodological reflection on the various passive airborne optical imaging solutions that landscape archaeology has come to rely upon in the past decades. In doing so, it calls into question the effectiveness and suitability of these highly subjective approaches for landscape archaeology. Finally, the paper proposes a new, more objective approach to aerial optical image acquisition with passive sensors. In the discussion, the text argues that the suggested exhaustive (or total) airborne sampling of the preserved archaeological record might transcend particular theoretical paradigms, while the data generated could span various interpretational perspectives and oppositional analytical approaches in landscape archaeology.

Geert Julien Joanna Verhoeven
Geert Julien Joanna Verhoeven
Vice Director, Senior Researcher