In our territorial acknowledgment we recognize that this land has been inhabited for a very long time – existing since beyond the reach of memory - immemorial. Uncovering and understanding the past is the research that inspires an Archaeologist. With our rich cultural heritage, being able to understand the past inhabitants of this land is important for our shared future.

The traditional excavation process removes the artifacts from their context and causes irreversible alteration of these sites. Sites can only be excavated one time and once disturbed the sites are of limited use for understanding the history they contain. Doctoral student Tammi Mills (Department of Geography and Environment) recognized this challenge during her professional career as an archaeologist and was interested in studying new ways of preserving this cultural heritage. Under the supervision of remote sensing expert and Geography professor, Dr. Craig Coburn, Mills has embarked on an innovative study to evaluate the use of remote sensing as a non-invasive method of locating and thereby preserving this history.

Partnering with the Archaeological Society of Alberta (Lethbridge Centre) and with matching funding from Mitacs, Mills is working on a pioneering project to transform archaeological exploration in the region using drone-based imaging technology. By finding links between the study of archaeology and the science of remote sensing, Mills is looking for new ways to study our past.

Their solution? Mapping heat with Drones.

Remote sensing is a powerful set of science and technology that allows scientists to see the world through many different lenses.  The ability to image archaeological sites has provided archaeologists with invaluable information for over a century, but recent innovations in drone technology and imaging has opened up a new set of opportunities for further research.  Drones equipped with the latest thermal sensing technology are allowing archaeologists gain unprecedented insights into ancient sites by looking for thermal anomalies from sites just below the Earth’s surface.

The research that Tammi is conducting in collaboration with the Archaeological Society of Alberta (Lethbridge Centre), is ground-breaking. Outfitting drones with thermal sensors and employing structure-from-motion (SfM) technology, she aims to find not only surface features but also detect sites concealed beneath the Earth's surface.

"This research isn't solely about unearthing artifacts," Tammi explains. "It's about safeguarding our heritage for posterity. By combining cutting-edge technology with traditional archaeology, we can paint a more comprehensive portrait of the past."

The ramifications of Tammi's work transcend academia. By offering a cost-effective solution for prospecting archaeological sites, her research paves the way for more efficient surveys and targeted excavations.

"I believe our research will inspire others," Tammi emphasizes. "It's about embracing innovation while upholding tradition."

Beyond her scholarly endeavors, Tammi's passions span from crafting elaborate Halloween costumes for her son to exploring the trails of British Columbia on her mountain bike. Yet, her overarching aspiration remains unchanged—to bridge the gap between research and practical application in the realm of cultural resource management.

As the Sun rises above the horizon, casting a warm glow over Alberta's landscape, a new chapter in archaeology unfolds—one where new remote sensing technologies and methods assist in uncovering our past concealed beneath the Earth's surface.

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