Above the jungles of Central America, a device aboard an aircraft used millions of laser pulses to penetrate the thick forest canopy and map ancient Mayan settlements in 3-D. That demonstrated the power of LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), a technology that has transformed archaeology over the past five years.
LIDAR's ability to image everything down to 1.2 inches (3 centimeters) means that archaeologists can create detailed reconstructions of everything from the siege works outside old U.S. forts to underground tunnels from World War I in France.
"Thirty years ago, using photographs and plain old pen and pencil to survey would take weeks," said Tony Pollard, director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. "Now, LIDAR can do it in minutes."
The technology can even measure subtle differences in crop height that may reveal buried features in everything from ditches to buildings, said Sarah Parcak, an Egyptologist at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. She added that using such 3-D mapping power with satellite imaging could give archaeologists a powerful combination of tools for the future