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Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Aeroplanes, Lasers & Puffins: My Year at the Royal Commission - Part 1

The office of an aerial archaeologist – the front seat of a Cessna 172

Having finished my Ph.D. in 2010 I was eager to pursue my career in archaeology, but I had hit the job market at probably the worst time in a generation. I had been interested in aerial photography for many years – in fact, mapping prehistoric archaeology from aerial photos had formed a big part of my thesis – so when the opportunity to train in aerial archaeology with the Royal Commission came up, I applied right away, but knew I would be only one of many capable graduates going for the post. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to be offered the role, and even though it meant up-heaving my settled life from Cardiff to Aberystwyth, the opportunity was just too good to turn down.

The year has been exciting, but intensive. Training has been provided in everything needed to under take the aerial survey of archaeological sites, from flight planning and map reading to interpreting and cataloguing the captured images. I have even learnt how to use cutting edge survey technology such as LiDAR, which uses lasers to produce highly detailed terrain models of the earth’s surface that show the lumps and bumps of surviving archaeology. It could perhaps have been easy to have felt overwhelmed when faced with learning all these new techniques and processes, but from the start, I had the expert guidance of Toby, the Royal Commission’s Aerial Investigator, who, throughout the year provided me with his invaluable support and encouragement.

Without doubt, the flight training has been the most exhilarating and rewarding part of the role. I had been up in a light aircraft once before, but when you do it as a day job it’s an entirely different experience. We take to the skies in a four-seater Cessna 172, expertly flown by a professional pilot. The aerial archaeologist sits on the left-hand side of the aircraft and takes photos through the open window. There is little spare room – just enough space in the back for a trainee aerial archaeologist and a spare camera! Strapped in and wearing coats to keep warm and headphones to communicate, we fly at around 1,000 ft, navigating between known archaeological sites and always searching for new discoveries.

Wrapped up in coats and hats to keep warm, the experienced pilot (right) is always on hand to give advice and guidance about how to get that perfect shot, and provides a crucial second pair of eyes in the sky.

Oliver Davis, Royal Commission, March 2012.

View Part 2
Aeroplanes, Lasers & Puffins: My Year at the Royal Commission - Part 2 >>

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