Photo for What to do About Lidar
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM
Fowler Museum A222
UCLA Campus
Los Angeles, CA 90095
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Over the last decade, the advent of airborne laser scanning (or lidar) technology has had a significant impact on the field of landscape archaeology worldwide. This is particularly true in the tropical world, where the unique ability of lidar to ‘see through’ vegetation cover and reveal traces of past human activity continues to inform new perspectives on early agriculture, urbanism, and the historical trajectories of ‘tropical forest societies’ such as the Maya and the Khmer.

Despite the increasingly common use of lidar in the field, however, the method has not been universally well-received, and the technique continues to attract controversy in some areas. Frequently, these debates reflect broader issues in contemporary digital archaeology that are brought into sharper focus by lidar: for example, how to address problems of openness and accessibility given concerns over looting and site preservation, and how to reconcile the potential for automation and working at scale with the conventions of a field-oriented, site-focused discipline.

Since 2012 archaeologists have completed multiple lidar acquisitions over Angkor-period sites in Cambodia and Thailand, and coverage is now scaling up dramatically across Southeast Asia, with several new initiatives underway. These different projects have navigated the usual array of social, political, technical, and disciplinary constraints with varying degrees of success. This talk will provide an overview of these various efforts and their research outcomes, look at their experiences in engaging with the issues involved, and offer perspectives on how to move forward with programs of wide-area lidar in light of recent technological advances, emerging applications of artificial intelligence, and the potential for cross-cultural, comparative studies spanning the past and present.

Damian Evans is a Research Fellow at the French Institute of Asian Studies (EFEO), in Paris, focusing on the application of geospatial and computational techniques to the study of early Southeast Asia. Prior to joining the EFEO in 2015, he was founding Director of the University of Sydney’s Research Centre in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where he spent a decade on the ground overseeing a range of projects spanning different disciplines and time periods, including the landmark lidar acquisitions at Angkor. He has published widely on these, and recently co-authored a revised edition of the classic volume Angkor and the Khmer Civilization with the late Michael D. Coe.





Sponsor(s): Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology