Uncovering Nigeria's past: Drones in archeology

Archaeologists across the globe are increasingly discovering that using drones is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to find out what is hidden below the ground. 

In Nigeria, archaeologists have started to use drones to detect, map and view archaeological sites in Ile-Ife, the cradle of the Yoruba civilization. 

Saving archeologists a considerable amount of time and money, the UAVs have aided the discovery of city walls, abandoned settlements, pottery sheds, ceremonial pits, and a series of other archaeological materials created by the Yoruba people during the 10th-12th centuries. 

Adisa Ogunfolakan, director of the Nigerian Natural History Museum, explains how the aerial information gathered by drones helps archeologists to uncover Nigeria's past. 

"We started using drones in 2015 for some of our archaeological work in Ile-Ife to help capture images of the archaeological site. 

Having an aerial view of the site means we are able to see its topography. We can see where city walls lie, which helps to guide us with regards to where to excavate and which areas to concentrate on. 

The technology has enhanced our work, helping to show us the orientation of the land. That has aided us in discovering abandoned settlements, pottery sheds, and a series of other archaeological materials created by the Yoruba people during the 10th-12th centuries in Ile-Ife. 

Drones have also been used to identify sites in the town of Ilara in southwestern Nigeria. Aerial imagery helped to discover the extent of a trench carved in that area, one of the largest we have ever discovered, which ran to around 160km. 

This is a new way of doing archaeology, we are moving from analogue to digital. Analogue archaeology involves moving around sites [on foot] to identify where you have materials. But using drones, alongside other techniques and methods, delivers us ways of digitally identifying things. 

 ''This is a new way of doing archaeology, 
  we are moving from analogue to digital.'' 

 Adisa Ogunfolakan, director of the Nigerian Natural History Museum 

We did have three drones, lent to us by colleagues from the US, but they've since gone back so we don't have one anymore. Now we are planning to see if we can get a drone of our own, either through a donation or via funding so we can buy one. 

We are the first users of drones for archaeology in Nigeria … and our museum is the only one of its kind in West Africa. 

I'm advocating that we use drones in archaeological projects [across Africa], because they enhance our research and help us to be more precise in our identification. The technology also gives us an economical advantage as it allows us to see what we are working on more quickly, economizing our time. 

We are using modern technology in order to find the ancient. Technology can help us to see what life was like hundreds and thousands of years ago."


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