Drones used in exploration of archeological sites in Mexico

By Fernanda Duque Hernández

The temples viewed from above.

In 2013, Dr. Genevieve Lucet from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), arrived to the archeological zone of Zempoala (Veracruz) with an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAVS), more commonly known as a drone. Using this novel piece of technology, Lucet discovered an unknown part of this ancient place.

The drone, with a camera mounted on it, took photos that day which seemed to show that the official drawings of the archeological sites (originally made by Mexican archaeologist Ignacio Marquina) had several errors. According to Dr. Lucet, the Temple of the Sun (the most important one of the site) and the entrance to the complex were placed on the wrong side of the map. The dimensions of the Chimney Temple were also smaller than the original sketch.

Lucet’s digitalization of the archeological zones of Mexico began in the Cacaxtla archaeological site in the state of Tlaxcala in 1990. She and her team digitalized the maps and drawings of the zone with a computer program called Autocad. The result was a computerized miniature of Cacaxtla, the first one of its type in Latin America.

dron archeological sites

In 2012 Genevieve managed to convince the UNAM to procure a drone for her and her team. They subsequently mounted a camera on Huitzilin (the name they gave the drone) along with a homemade timer, a Global Positioning System (GPS), and an imaging and radio system. With this new tool, 364 photos of Zempoala were taken and used to make a sophisticated map in 3D.

This work, which is known as Photogrammetry, is being used since the XIX century for military purposes. It’s a complicated job, and making a map requires hundreds and hundreds of photographs to be taken, from different angles.

However it is well worth the effort as the results are 3D drawings of areas considered to be inaccessible or perhaps dangerous to the researchers.

“My goal in life is not the record of all Mexican heritage but I want to improve the tools to obtain complete and accurate information”.

Genevieve Lucet.

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