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HOW GEOPHYSICAL METHODS CAN HELP THE ARCHAEOLOGIST

by Lambert Dolphin former Senior Research Physicist SRI International, Menlo Park, California

World War One brought the discovery that photographs behind enemy lines taken from airplanes could be of great value in warfare. Not longer after this, observers taking random photographs from the air over rural England noticed that traces of old Roman walls, forts and roads could be seen on aerial photographs but otherwise went unnoticed under cornfields and pastures when archaeologists wandered about the countryside on foot. Terrain photos from captive balloons had been made even earlier (1860) but it was only in the 1930's and 40's that archaeologists began to take advantage of photos from the air over archaeological sites. Today, of course, stereo-pair color and color infra-red film photographs (or even the newer multi-spectral imaging methods) from the air, are the place to begin in mapping and understanding an archaeologically interesting area.

Prior to the Second World War electronic methods began to be employed in earnest in searching hr oil and large mineral deposits beneath the surface of the earth. Because of the big economic payoff, successful discoveries made possible by even primitive geophysical methods were high enough that R&D budgets soon became generous. An explosion of knowledge in geology, earth science, geophysical and remote sensing followed. After World War 2 all the sophistication brought by war time research then also became available to private industry, producing a new, even bigger, boom in geophysical exploration. Historically, the scale of exploration required for oil and mineral exploration for most of these methods was very large (of the order of kilometers), while in contrast the scale of interest to an archaeologist is only centimeters or meters. In addition to highly evolved aerial photography, airborne and satellite multi- spectral imaging instruments, good ground based geophysical instruments began to be commercially available in the 30's taking advantage of various physical phenomena.

Earth Currents (mapping electrical conductivity in the earth).surface features). Magnetometer (measures variations in the magnetic field of the earth due to subsurface features. Method (1) is commonly used in oil exploration. especially ferrous materials).       As mentioned. Finally radioactive methods are used in exploration for radioactive minerals. but often funding levels for these important activities are also minimal. oil exploration.Some basic geophysical methods include the following: (1) Seismic Reflection & Refraction. with the help of a back-hoe or bulldozer. dispersion. Explosion waves with listening (determines travel time. the National Science Foundation or the Smithsonian Institution. and (5) Radioactivity. bending. The field work in archaeology has always depended mostly on student volunteers and assistants. Metal detectors (induced electrical fields). the application of some of the above geophysical methods to archaeology began in earnest after World War II. or trenching done. and regional geology studies. Vibroseis (artificially shaking the ground at low frequencies). Induced Polarization Mapping. Methods (3) and (4) find common application in mineral exploration. Cataloging. and reflection of low frequency sound waves). Small amounts of financing are sometimes available from museums or grant institutions such as National Geographic Society. but in contrast to the huge budgets available for petroleum and mineral exploration. Neutron Activation (artificially induced radioactive emission). . Usually digging at an archaeological site must be done by hand though occasionally massive amounts of overburden must be removed. The gravity method (2) is especially useful in oil exploration. and regional geology studies. Gravimeter (measures variations in the earth's gravity field attributable to sub. Resistivity Mapping. Electrical Potential Measurements. Geiger counter and Scintillation counter (natural radioactive decay of certain earth materials). (2) Gravity. and publication of scientific papers occupies the off-season. (4) Electrical. preserving artifacts (conservation). (3) Magnetics. archaeological budgets have almost always been minuscule. Common geophysical instruments and methods include:    Earthquake studies (study of the interior of the earth on a large scale). Usually the chief archaeologist at a site is a reputable and experienced professor whose modest salary is paid by his school so that he can teach university classes and do some seasonal field research on the side. engineering geology.

Geophysical probing on the other hand is rapid. however. originally for military purposes such as locating land-mines and underground military tunnels. Most recently radars of this type have been used from aircraft for mapping the surface of the earth through jungle or forest cover. especially in Israel. Geophysical survey work at a given sites can usually be done in a few days or weeks of effort. and disclose important underground features: buried walls. GPR technologies have proven to be of great usefulness in archaeology. the pyramids. and does not disturb the site. churches. Geophysical methods may be of great value as the site will often be totally destroyed by the new construction. As a site is dug up it is systematically destroyed. the results of which are useful for many years of subsequent excavation work. tunnels. Archaeologists can be greatly helped in setting his digging priorities if geophysical methods can be used ahead of time.But even with the limited budgets archaeologists have with for decades. Hence each step of the dig must be painstakingly slow with careful documentation at each level. etc.000. Thanks to modern legislation. Not all archaeological sites can be excavated. These instruments can be used from a . mosques.000. In fact total excavation of a site may be impractical. geophysical methods can be of great value to an archaeologist. barren ground. parks. Examples would be historic buildings. and for locating cavities and voids.     NEWER METHODS Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) was invented in the 1970's. substantial funding for archaeological research prior to the clearing of an area and construction of new buildings may be available. In recent years portable instruments of great sensitivity have become commercially available at greatly reduced prices. the time available for the archaeological effort may be very limited. Foliage-penetrating radars are now used widely for topographic mapping of the land surface beneath jungle canopy and forest cover. Many decades may be required to explore a given site. Salvage archaeology has become important as urban sites encroach on archaeological sites in many parts of the world. such as a tell. ancient streets. and areas which underlie modern urban development. geophysical methods are non.000 to $1. Radar from the air is seldom of use to the archaeologist these days except for large sites covered by jungle such as are found in the Yucatan or Central America. Thermal-infrared imaging methods measure the surface temperature of the earth to an accuracy of a fraction of one degree. Soon public utility companies began to be keenly interested in such radars in hopes they would provide a practical method for mapping pipes and utility lines under city streets. Some of these reasons include:  Archaeology is destructive. The electronic scanning equipment necessary for such measurements was originally available only to the military and the instruments cost from $100. In some cases these methods may be all that the archaeologist is able to use at some sites. Again. non-destructive. Geophysical surveying can in many cases reveal artifact-laden vs. In many such cases. voids.destructive and very rapidly employed. hence often cost effective in the long run.

The larger the search coil. Borehole Technology. A battery-powered transmitter in the unit radiates a relatively low-frequency alternating current signal into the ground by means of a transmitting coil. Not all individuals or companies who offer geophysical assistance to the archaeologist are reputable or professionally competent. even when made using legitimate instruments. they have the advantage of being easy to use and most cost only a few hundred dollars. and for locating gold or silver deposits within a quartz vein in a lode mine. the deeper the penetration. or archaeological sites (on land or under the sea).tripod on the ground. Some areas are too "noisy" for metal detectors. Some geophysical instruments on the market may promise amazing results in identifying metals at great depth by type and quantity but many of these operate by methods unknown to reputable science. or from obscuring signals caused by nearby parked cars. This induced current then reradiates a weak signal back to the surface. Non-metal objects are not detected. rebar or metallic litter at the site. Radars. Metal detectors are "active" instruments. Modern metal detectors have circuitry for carefully balancing out any direct signal leakage between transmitter and receiver coils and for discriminating between large and small. however coins and small metal objects can be detected only a few inches deep and very large metal objects only to depths of a few feet. to permit geophysical probing at depth. The latter signal is out-of-phase with the transmitted signal and thus is easily detected by a receiving coil. When chambers or voids are encountered while drilling. The following legitimate geophysical methods and instruments are in use in the service of archaeology today: METAL DETECTORS A wide variety of "metal detectors" are commercially available today. Core drill soil samples can be a big help in identifying the various historic levels and strata at a layered archaeological site such as a tell. If the signal from the transmitter encounters any type of conducting metal or mineral in the ground an induced current flows in the subsurface target. Holes drilled into an archaeological site are obviously much less damaging than trenches or tunnels and they can either be filled or capped after use. Archaeologists should not expect his geophysicist to work wonders for him at all sites. or from helicopter or airplane by viewing through a hole in the fuselage. Small objects such as coins usually must lie within a few inches to a foot of the surface to be detected by metal detectors. The simpler instruments of this type are useful for "coin shooting" at old ghost town sites. and ferrous or non-ferrous metals. . Fraudulent self-made experts---whose instruments may be little more than electronic water dowsing rods-commonly offer services that are of little value. these can be explored (and video taped) using a down-hole television camera equipped with lights. in other cases no known method may prove really very useful or cost effective. In some cases a combination of instruments may be appropriate. Geophysical records. "Noise" can originate from power lines. scattered nails. and certain rocks such as iron-rich basalt can be troublesome for metal detector work. Highly mineralized areas are difficult to work in. shallow or deep. are also of little value unless the data is collected and interpreted correctly. seismic and resistivity other probes are often lowered into holes drilled into an archaeological site.

geological stratifications and water-table depth can also be successfully located by the use of resistivity by selecting appropriate electrode spacing to allow the probing current to enter the ground to the appropriate depth. moving his electrodes in pairs. 3 to 1. but with fancy labels attached.The sensitivity of metal detectors is a steep function of the coil diameter. If multiple electrodes are used and the results recorded automatically at the push of a button. A crew of two can easily study an area of perhaps 1000 square meters in a day. (As a rule of thumb. and usually priced under $1500. The target depth divided by the diameter of the target should be less than 3 or 4 for best sensitivity. but instruments suitable for archaeological use are battery powered. Resistivity meters employed in oil prospecting are often powered by large generators using very high voltages and electrodes spaced perhaps hundreds of meters or kilometers apart. are often found advertised for five times the price of standard instruments. A very short pulse is used allowing accurate measurement of depth to the target. and also probed at various depths at the same time. Resistivity instruments no different than those used by professional geophysicists. however with large coils and ample transmitter power larger metal objects can be located to depths of 10 or 15 feet using metal detectors. RESISTIVITY METHOD The resistivity method of subsurface exploration is powerful but often tedious to employ unless an automated instrument is available. however the antenna beam is very broad (90-120 degrees usually) and can not easily be narrowed because the antennas become too big and bulky. but in simplest form the operator takes measurements along a straight line ("traverse"). A number of different electrode configurations are used in practice. It is necessary to use relatively low frequencies because the earth almost always is a good absorber of radar waves. but buried walls and filled trenches can often be mapped. A second pair of electrodes is then used to quantitatively measure the voltage pattern on the surface resulting from the current flow pattern of the first set of electrodes. He then repeats the measurements along a parallel line until the area of interest has been covered with a rectangular grid of electrode positions. The method is simple: Current is introduced into the ground through one pair of electrodes. Let the buyer beware! GROUND-PENETRATING RADAR (GPR) Radars designed for probing into the earth typically operate from 30 to 300 MHz-the frequency being determined by the length of the dipole antennas used. a simple computer program quickly generates a three-dimensional map of ground electrical resistivity or conductivity. Very often GPRs are mounted on a small wheeled cart which is hand towed across the area of . Once the resistivity data has been collected.0 meters for shallow targets. Current flow between these electrodes fans out through the ground in a pattern and intensity that depends on the conductivity of the ground and any stratification or obstacles that lie in the vicinity of the electrodes. the area to be examined can be searched more efficiently.5 times the electrode spacing in typical arrays). though some experts claim to be able to detect targets with a depth to diameter ratio of 9 or more. Typical electrode spacings might be 0. Boulders. the depth of maximum sensitivity for resistivity sounding is about 1. low frequencies imply long probing wavelengths and long wavelengths imply low resolution. easy to use. Claims for detection at greater depths as well as identification of metals by type are suspect. Unfortunately. Targets most easily seen on resistivity surveys are cavities or voids.

or chambers one hundred feet or more in depth. off-axis echoes. Targets of interest can be triangulated and mapped if these targets can be viewed from various aspect angles. HIGH-FREQUENCY SEISMIC SOUNDING Sound waves are not easily coupled into soils. and multiple scattering echoes. The radar output can be recorded on a standard home video tape for archiving and detailed study. but can be custom built for about $10." Clutter signals are unwanted reflections. These signals obscure the target of interest under bands of signals but in many cases digital processing improves radar performance by many orders of magnitude. A coupling gel. GPRs are usually limited not only by clutter but also by attenuation of the radar signal in the soil. and also printed out on strip-chart paper for immediate on site analysis. an experienced operator can often traversing large areas of surface at a site in a single day. isolated sites away from modern buildings and . Commercial cart GPRs are priced from about $18. When cart-mounted radar can be used. is necessary to couple the seismic signal into and out of the transmitting and receiving transducers and this makes field measurements somewhat time consuming unless only a few locations are to be surveyed.000. the Valley of the Kings in Egypt has very high radar attenuation. This is most severe in clay soils and damp soils where the salt content is high. and when soil attenuation values are low they can detect caves. Very often cart radars can not be used because of rugged surface terrain. that is. Measuring the thickness of a wall or pillar is readily done with this method.000 and operator training and experience is necessary to interpret the records. nearby automobiles. or cycles per second) but at higher frequencies sound waves can be used in rock or solid walls as a helpful diagnostic tool. Portable individual transmitting and receiving dipoles are useful in such cases. since the performance of these radars is almost always "clutter limited. many tens of feet or even hundreds of feet. Magnetometers are most suited for remote.000 to $40.interest.000 Hertz (cycles/second). tombs. High-frequency sounding is especially useful for finding tombs and voids in areas of high radar signal absorption. For example. The magnetic signals associated with archaeological features are very small and easily obscured by trash metals. MAGNETOMETRY The earth's magnetic field is slightly disturbed by some kinds of archaeological anomalies such as fired clay pottery. if the search area is reasonably flat and relatively free of brush and boulders. Portable GPRs are well suited for discovering cavities and voids. The echoes are displayed in a continuous strip oscilloscope false color record for ease of interpreting results. In recent years the state of the art in GPR technology has been greatly improved by computer signal processing methods. and the like. High-frequency seismic sounding instruments are not presently commercially available. power lines. except at very low frequencies (a few Hertz. But the data must now be recorded point by point. but the same limestone can be probed with high-frequency sound waves for distances well beyond 100 feet. Frequencies used for probing in bedrock or stone are generally 1000 to 30. or mud layer. or under favorable conditions. Interpretation of GPR records of all types is unusually difficult requiring operator skill and experience for satisfactory results. Or perhaps the area to be explored is underground---inside a tunnel or cistern or along a confined area such as a hillside. The depth of penetration at some sites may be less than 1 foot. usually by taking Polaroid photos.

which may be time consuming. A combination of geophysical methods can be helpful as each method has its strengths and limitations.debris.000 and can be used in pairs (a "differential magnetometer" to subtract out all but the wanted signals." For these reasons gravity surveys have been little used in archaeology to date. Magnetometry has been successfully used to located imported stone at some well-known archaeological sites. as has been suggested. The data must be carefully corrected for such things as surface topography and diurnally varying "earth tides. false-color images showing temperature contours can thus provide interesting clues for the archaeologist at some sites. so geophysical sensing may provide the only means of studying the site. geophysical methods can be most useful since they are non-destructive and rapid. Some sites (monuments or parks) contain sites or buildings that can not be disturbed at all. In additional to diurnal heating and cooling. These can all be done from a distance or from the air. seasonal heat flow temperature changes can often be detected providing information on deeper archaeological anomalies. since outlines and features not visible from the ground frequently show up in aerial photos. known as "microgravimeters" cost of the order of $50. AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY AND IMAGERY Conventional aerial (stereo-pair) photos of a site are very useful.000 gammas.000 and require a very experienced trained operator. The Temple Mount in Jerusalem is an ideal site for on-going thermal infra-red imaging studies and Tuvia Sagiv. Archaeology is a time-honored exacting scientific discipline which provides us with some of our best information on human history and the past. Thermal infra-red (IR) imagery requires a scanner. Heat flow through rock and soil is very slow---rock is an excellent heat insulator---so infra. an architect from Tel Aviv. especially if such measurements can be made carefully at periodic intervals through an entire year. give rise to very large magnetic anomalies. usually cooled by liquid nitrogen. At night radiation cooling of the ground is not uniform if there are subsurface features that impede or enhance heat flow. The archaeologist can hope to chose digging priorities based on survey findings. the earth's gravity field is very slightly altered by such features as subsurface voids or caves. It is to be hoped that more opportunities and sources of funding will develop so that modern geophysical methods can assist the archaeologist even more frequently than has been possible in recent years. Modern magnetometers are sensitive to field changes of about 1 gamma-the earth's weak magnetic field intensity is of the order of 50. MICROGRAVITY Gravity is one of the weakest of all forces found in nature. . not about temperatures deep within the earth.red measurements give information about temperatures near the surface. Point by point measurements must be made. GENERAL COMMENTS If an archaeological site is complex and important. likely to be excavated for many field seasons. In spite of the limitations. Advice from a geologist who is familiar with an area can be helpful also. Fired mud brick has a reasonably high magnetic anomaly and of course ferrous materials such as one might expect at an Iron-Age or later site. Suitable gravity meters. (instrument cost $15. but surface temperature differences of a small fraction of one degree can be measured. has already obtained some fascinating thermal IR images of the Temple Mount area. Yet.000 to 50.000). Magnetometers cost from about $1500 to $10.