Archaeological geophysics: 3D imaging of the Muweilah archaeological site, United Arab Emirates

  • Published : 2004.02.01


The sand-covered Muweilah archaeological site in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a unique Iron Age site, and has been subject to intensive investigations. However, excavations are time consuming and may require twenty years to complete. Thus geophysical surveys were undertaken with the objective of characterising the site more expeditiously. This paper presents preliminary results of these surveys. Ground penetrating radar (GPR) was tested as a primary imaging tool, with an ancillary shallow time domain EM (MetalMapper) system. Dense 3D GPR datasets were migrated to produce horizontal (plan view) depth slices at 10 cm intervals, which is conceptually similar to the archaeologists' excavation methodology. The objective was to map all features associated with anthropogenic activity. This required delineating extensive linear and planar features, which could represent infrastructure. The correlation between these and isolated point reflectors, which could indicate anthropogenic activity, was then assessed. Finally, MetalMapper images were used to discriminate between metallic and non-metallic scatterers. The moderately resistive sand cover allowed GPR depth penetration of up to 5 m with a 500 MHz system. GPR successfully mapped floor levels, walls, and isolated anthropogenic activity, but crumbling walls were difficult to track in some cases. From this study, two possible courtyard areas were recognised. The MetalMapper was less successful because of its limited depth penetration of 50 cm. Despite this, the system was still useful in detecting modem-day ferruginous waste and bronze artefacts. The results (subject to ongoing ground-truthing) indicated that GPR was optimal for sites like Muweilah, which are buried under a few metres of sand. The 3D survey methodology proved essential to achieve line-to-line correlation for tracking walls. In performing the surveys, a significant improvement in data quality ensued when survey areas were flattened and de-vegetated. Although MetalMapper surveys were not as useful, they certainly indicated the value of including other geophysical data to constrain interpretation of complex GPR features.


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