Airborne Lidar and Historic Environment Records

By Challis, Keith; Kokalj, Ziga et al. | Antiquity, December 2008 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Airborne Lidar and Historic Environment Records

Challis, Keith, Kokalj, Ziga, Kincey, Mark, Moscrop, Derek, Howard, Andy J., Antiquity

The authors assess the potential contribution of lidar surveys to national inventories of archaeological resources ('Historic Environment Records), and compare the relative costs and sensitivity of lidar and aerial photography.

Keywords: England, aerial survey, lidar, aerial photography


The new technique of lidar survey (Light Detection and Ranging) has already been applied to landscape mapping (Barnes 2003; Bewley et al. 2005; Bofinger et al. 2006; Harmon et al. 2006; Powlesland et al. 2006), geoarchaeological prospection and evaluation (Brunning & Far-Cox 2005; Challis 2005; 2006; Challis et al. 2006; Carey et al. 2006; Jones et al. 2007) and the detection of upstanding archaeological remains beneath the vegetation canopy (Devereux et al. 2005; Doneus & Briese 2006; Risbol et al. 2006; Sittler & Schellberg 2006; Crow et al. 2007). Lidar only detects features that rise above ground level (however slightly), so cropmark and soilmark sites are generally beyond its reach, although variations in crop height--one aspect of the cropmark phenomenon--may be detectable (Challis et al. 2006). The utility of lidar for finding new sites and defining historic environments has been broadly recognised (Holden et al. 2002; Bewley 2003; Crutchley 2006) but systematic application and evaluation is still in its infancy. It will be important to keep under review its growing utility within the armoury of prospection procedures applied in the research and management of archaeological resources.

This paper assesses the potential of lidar to enhance existing records of the historic environment, using a case study from a river valley in the agricultural midlands of England. Lidar elevation data at a spatial resolution of 2m was collected over a 25km stretch of the valley of the River Dove on the Derbyshire/Staffordshire border. These data were compared with the existing inventory of sites for the study area and with a selected sample of vertical aerial photography. While this assessment is based on a British example, we feel that the results have implications for cultural resource management internationally.


Study area

The study area comprised a 25km segment of the valley floor of the River Dove between Rocester and its confluence with the River Trent at Newton Solney, a total land area of 10 703ha (Figure 1). The study area is dominated by pasture, with limited arable cultivation and woodland. The landscape is a patchwork of fields and farmsteads of post-medieval origin, with extensive areas of earthwork ridge and furrow betraying traces of an earlier, medieval, agricultural regime. Other upstanding earthworks relate to water meadows, deer parks, a moat and a miscellany of others, also largely of medieval and post-medieval origin. Belowground archaeology includes infrequent prehistoric round barrows, and occasional surface finds of prehistoric and Romano-British origin. The relative scarcity of arable agricultural land means that sites which depend for their detection on cropmarks or artefacts from the plough zone are poorly represented (8 per cent in Staffordshire and 18 per cent in Derbyshire). Sites evidenced by earthworks, and so visible to airborne lidar, dominate the existing record of the study area (18 per cent in Staffordshire and 38 per cent in Derbyshire).



Lidar data collected by the UK Environment Agency currently covers approximately 16 million hectares, 66 per cent of the land surface of the United Kingdom (Brown et al. 2003). Although the usual resolution (2m) is low, the broad coverage means that its assessment for archaeological usage is imperative. The present study used data from the survey covering 107km2 of the Dove valley. The data were imported into a geographical information system (GIS) developed using ESRI ArcGIS 9.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Airborne Lidar and Historic Environment Records


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?