Archaeologists Use Drone to Build 3D Virtual Reality Map of Laos’ Plain of Jars

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anulogoJust as the emergence of 3D printing technology has been found useful for a number of applications, the rise of drone technology has provided immense benefits to many ventures as well. We’ve covered a wide range of these innovative drone uses, from students helping with marine research to providing first response for medical emergencies, and even for pizza delivery. Now, archaeologists from Australian National University (ANU) and Monash University have utilized drone technology to build a 3D virtual reality map of the Plain of Jars in Laos, one of the most endearing and mysterious sites in all of Asia.

The technology used by the archaeology team to create the virtual reality map is called CAVE2, and was developed at Melbourne-based Monash University and uses drone footage to create a virtual map of dig sites. Flying over the Plain of Jars, the drone would capture a set of 3D images every 10 centimeters — this data was then embedded into a digital mold. The researchers can now fully immerse themselves into the virtual reality map of the dig site, allowing them walk around an accurate replica of the famed grounds.

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According to Dr. Douglas O’Reilly of the ANU School of Archaeology and Anthropology, the 3D map has provided a number of benefits to the team of archaeologists. Not only are they able revisit a virtual representation of the site, the virtual reality model can even be 3D printed, allowing people to view wondrous relics without damaging the actual artifact. Currently, the archaeologist is using the virtual reality map to observe the positioning of objects that he’s having radio-carbon dated.

“It provides easy access to remote faraway places. Theoretically you could use the headset with your phone to visit a 3D map of any location,” said O’Reilly. “You could print a life-sized version of any CAVE2 model. You could use them in museums rather than disrupting the archeologically record by moving artifacts.”

The Plain of Jars project is the first major archaeological dig in central Laos since the 1930s, and is currently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The landscape is full of mystery, including ancient carved stone jars that measure up to three meters tall, as well as a big sandstone disk and large quartz stones.

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Ariel view of the archaeology site from the drone camera

Dr. O’Reilly headed the project in tandem with Monash University’s Dr. Louise Shewan, who has said that the CAVE2 technology will also become useful for investigating sites that are not accessible by traditional archaeological methods. For instance, the Plain of Jars site has a number of unexploded land mines, and just 7 of the 80 known jar sites in the area have been cleared of these explosives. All in all, this archaeology project is yet another example of how drone technology is being used to help preserve the earth and keep people safe, while the virtual reality map places us in the midst of hard to reach or dangerous places. Discuss in the Monash University forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: EurekAlert via Douglas O’Reilly / Images: ANU]
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