Remote Sensing in Archaeology: An Explicitly North American Perspective

By Alvey, Jeffrey S. | Southeastern Archaeology, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Remote Sensing in Archaeology: An Explicitly North American Perspective


Alvey, Jeffrey S., Southeastern Archaeology


Remote Sensing in Archaeology: An Explicitly North American Perspective. JAY K. JOHNSON (ed.). University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, 2006. 344 pp., 142 figs., 8 tables, references, contributors, CD-ROM containing a .PDF document that contains color versions of the volume's 142 figs. $34.50 (paper), ISBN 0-8173-5343-7.

Reviewed by Jeffrey S. Alvey

This informative and timely volume introduces the reader to the world of remote sensing applications in archaeology, while emphasizing how these tools can contribute to the process of Cultural Resource Management (CRM). Thirteen chapters, written by 11 of the leading researchers in the field, provide a comprehensive look at the current role remote sensing is playing in the archaeology of North America. The growing importance of remote sensing in archaeology and the quality of work present in this volume make it an essential read for all North American archaeologists, especially those involved in CRM.

The volume begins with an introductory chapter by the volume's editor, Jay K. Johnson, which outlines the justifications and goals of the volume and provides a brief survey of the existing literature on remote sensing.

In chapter 2, Jami Lockhart and Thomas Green argue that remote sensing has an important role to play in CRM and, thus, should be more explicitly integrated into CRM guidelines. Lockhart and Green cite the failure of laws, regulations, and standards to recognize the value of remote sensing as the prominent reason why CRM has been slow to incorporate remote sensing methods. The authors argue that efforts must be made to educate everyone involved in the process of Section 106 compliance of the value of remote sensing.

The basic argument by Jay Johnson and Bryan Haley in chapter 3 is that remote sensing can make the task of Phase II CRM archaeology more cost and time efficient. They make this argument by using a cost simulation of traditional versus remote sensing-based data recovery for Phase II investigations. This comparison is an unnecessary overselling of the usefulness of remote sensing methods in archaeology. Before proceeding, I feel one typo in the chapter should be mentioned since it relates to the issue of the efficiency of remote sensing. On page 35 the authors state, "A magnetic survey can typically cover an area of 400 m^sup 2^ or more per day." Personal communication with Johnson confirmed that this should have read "4000 m^sup 2^."

Johnson and Haley's comparison of traditional versus remote sensing methods for data recovery is truly a case of apples versus oranges. The idea that traditional methods and remote sensing are redundant in terms of the types of data each recovers and, therefore, that one should be chosen over the other on the basis of efficiency is simply incorrect. It is unconstructive to view these methods as competing rather than complementary. Johnson and Haley note that multiple and complementary geophysical techniques should be used when investigating a site because some of the techniques reveal things that others do not; therefore, when used in conjunction the researcher's interpretive power is greatly increased. This is a logical statement, and one that I fully support; therefore, I fail to understand why the authors feel a need to dismiss traditional methods in favor of remote sensing. Do traditional methods provide data that remote sensing is unable to provide? Of course they do!

Chapter 4, by Marco Giardino and Haley, provides a history of use and description of aerial prospecting methods. The authors discuss aerial photography using black-and-white, color, and near-infrared film, multi-spectral digital sensors, and thermography, concluding that these methods are most appropriately used in Phase I survey. Along with descriptions of the methods, the authors also provide a discussion about data processing, how cultural resource managers may acquire these data, and how the data can be integrated within a GIS environment. …

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