Mavic Pro lends wings to first ever detailed study of Moroccan highlands

Spanish-based archaeological research organisation, the National Research Centre on Human Evolution (CENIEH) recently found a way to map and analyse the geomorphology of the Gara Soultana area in the High Plateaus Basin in Eastern Morocco.

Spoiler alert; they used a drone.

According to CENIEH the High Plateaus Basin is an important region to understand landscape evolution and human occupation in North Africa during the Quaternary (the quaternary period stretches from today to about 2,5million years ago). Archaeological findings indicate that it is a key region to understand the Stone Age sequence in North Africa, yet it has rarely been explored for geomorphological purposes.

“These studies are necessary to establish the relative chronology of artifacts according to their occurrence on landforms sequence, to reconstruct the processes operating in landscape during site formation and to model palaeolandscapes occupied by humans,” said CENIEH in its research, which was recently published in The Journal of Maps.

“In this work, we carried out the first large scale geomorphological analysis of the High Plateaus Basin focused on Gara Soultana hill and the El Haï valley (Za River tributary, Upper Moulouya catchment), where previous regional works mentioned pediments and conglomerates interpreted as fluvial terraces.”

The DJI Mavic Pro was deployed for aerial pictures

So they despatched a DJI Mavic Pro and put in out to work; it proved to be fast, more efficient and way less expensive than other options available, which included air laser scanning and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). The drone was also preferred because it could produce pictures of the large-scale area of Gara Soultana at high resolution.

“We thank the Jerada Government and Local Authorities of Aïn Beni Mathar and Guefait for local permits to operate with UAVs and to carry out geological, archaeological and paleontological fieldworks in the region,” said CENIEH.

The geomorphological mapping focused on fluvial terrace identification, while their differentiation from bedrock conglomerate layers and was based on fieldwork and spatial datasets derived from the aerial photogrammetry obtained by the drone. The photographs taken covered an area of about 0.56 square kilometres, joining the two valleys draining the Gara Soultana hillsides, in order to analyse the relationships between Gara Soultana butte and the incision sequence of the nearest valleys of Oued El Haï and Oued Bes-Bes.

In the end, after all the archaeological science was applied and the software processing worked into the pictures obtained, CENIEH emerged with the first ever high detailed landscape evolution study of the High Plateaus Basin. The researchers say this will help them understand landscape evolution and contextualize the archaeological surveys that are being conducted in the region. Based in the Spanish City of Burgos, CENIEH is a research centre belonging to the national network of Unique Scientific and Technical Infrastructures (ICTS). It is open for use in the scientific and technological fields to anyone in the international scientific and technological community. Its research activities are mainly on human evolution during the Late Neogene and Quaternary, and include collaborative projects at excavations and deposits of these periods worldwide.


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