Debitage and Drones: Classifying and Characterising Neolithic Stone Tool Production in the Shetland Islands Using High Resolution Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Imagery

William Megarry, Conor Graham, Bernard Gilhooley, Brendan O'Neill, Rob Sands, Astrid Nyland, Gabriel Cooney

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The application of high-resolution imagery from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to classify the spatial extent and morphological character of ground and polished stone tool production at quarry sites in the Shetland Islands is explored in this paper. These sites are manifest as dense concentrations of felsite and artefacts clearly visible on the surface of the landscape. Supervised classification techniques are applied to map material extents in detail, while a topological analysis of surface rugosity derived from an image-based modelling (IBM) generated high-resolution elevation model is used to remotely assess the size and morphology of the material. While the approach is unable to directly characterize felsite as debitage, it successfully captured size and morphology, key indicators of archaeological activity. It is proposed that the classification of red, green and blue (RGB) imagery and rugosity analysis derived from IBM from UAV collected photographs can remotely provide data on stone quarrying processes and can act as an invaluable decision support tool for more detailed targeted field characterisation, especially on large sites where material is spread over wide areas. It is suggested that while often available, approaches like this are largely under-utilized, and there is considerable added value to be gained from a more in-depth study of UAV imagery and derived datasets.
Original languageEnglish
Article number12
Number of pages14
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2018


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