Who says there’s nothing to do while you’re stuck at home in a coronavirus shutdown? While you’re eating and binge-watching TV shows you’re seen twice already, other people are looking for the Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot, UFOs and ghosts from their sofas, office chairs or beds. Now there’s even a group of home archeologists who are finding images of undiscovered ancient roads, burial mounds and medieval structures. Forget Indiana Jones … you can be an Indiana Homey and there’s no chance of running into snakes.
“I knew there would be enthusiasm within our volunteer group to continue working during lockdown – one even suggested temporarily rebranding our project ‘Lockdown Landscapes’ – but I don’t think they realised how many new discoveries they would make.”
Dr. Chris Smart of the University of Exeter's Understanding Landscapes Project turned pandemic lemons into productive lemonade by enlisting volunteers to scour over LiDAR light detection and ranging) images of the Tamar Valley -- a World Heritage Site following the Tamar River in south west England running between Devon and Cornwall. The LiDAR topological maps remove vegetation, buildings and any other features blocking the ground, which the volunteers then analyze for minute details suggesting something unusual is underneath. The data is then cross-referenced with regular maps to pinpoint the potential locations for onsite investigation … whenever those finally resume. In the meantime, here’s what they’ve discovered:
“… the team have found parts of two Roman roads, around 30 prehistoric or Roman large embanked settlement enclosures, around 20 prehistoric burial mounds, as well as the remains of hundreds of medieval farms, field systems and quarries.”
And that’s just scratching the virtual surface, says Smart. More is expected to be found as the search area expands to the land between Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor, Plymouth and Barnstaple, extending the inspection area to about 4000 sq. km (1545 sq. miles). With the lockdown expected to last until late summer, there could be a virtual treasure trove waiting for the brave masked archeologists who finally hit the dirt. In the meantime, many armchair archeologists like Fran Sperring are having a virtual blast.
“Searching for previously unknown archaeological sites -and helping to identify places for possible future study - has been not only gratifying but engrossing. Although it’s a fairly steep learning curve for me - being a relative novice to the subject - I’m enjoying every minute. Archaeology from the warm, dry comfort of your living room - what could be better?”
What could be better? More volunteers, for one. The University of Exeter’s Understanding Landscapes Project has a website set up to list which areas are currently available for study and has an application form. They would probably prefer people in the area, but if you’re the type who likes to scan Google Earth for flying saucers or alien caves, they may be interested.
Don’t just binge-watch watch “Ancient Aliens” – find some for yourself!