Robots can be useful for archaeological work in two ways: to go places that are too dangerous for humans, and to interpret data acquired from the exploration. These robots can enter inaccessible structures , or where there may be toxic or radioactive materials dangerous to humans. After retrieving artifacts from the exploration, the robots can figure out the findings.
Robots have the ability to make repetitive motions to mimic human actions such as cutting with a tool or “use-wear analysis”. They also have the ability to record, clean, photograph and analyze microscopic views of certain artifacts. Rather than replacing archaeologists, robots will be able to do work faster, easier, and safer for scientists.
Remote operated vehicles (ROV) were developed by the U.S. Navy to search for sunken ships more than half a century ago. Now they are being used to survey deep oceans containing ancient shipwrecks. These ROVs, can be carefully operated around fragile remains such as bottles or ceramics.
Automatic underwater vehicles (AUVs) are autonomous, and less expensive than manned or unmanned mini submarines. Minisubs had to controlled via cables from the main ship which also had to be modified to accommodate the vehicle. AUVs on the other hand, can be left alone in the water. Such probes can be armed with cameras, sonar devices for topography, sensors which can detect salinity and temperature, as well as chemistry analysis such as chlorophyll.
Robots are good for accessing small spaces such as underground tunnels, ventilation shafts, and hidden compartments. They can be equipped with LED lights, cameras and kinetic sensors with a certain degree of autonomy, many times avoiding obstacles, as well as producing 3D maps.
Unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones, can be useful tools to catalog and survey archaeological sites. These drones have the capability to take photographs at anytime, anywhere and at every angle possible that otherwise would be very difficult to do by an individual. Using a computer program, these photos can then be incorporated into a three-dimensional composite image, giving a good idea of what the structure or site originally looked like. Some drones have the capability of using laser radar or LiDAR in order to obtain good three-dimensional space coordinates.
Explorations have been carried out off the coast of Norway or in the waters of Sicily where ancient Roman ships have sunk. Robotic snakes covered with an artificial skin to prevent sand from entering the gears, were used to explore caves created by the ancient Egyptians near the Red Sea. These snakes, through motion control, have the ability to go into every direction, make different turns, and even climb up poles. The snakes can also be equipped with multi-spectral imagery. These mini robots are able to explore sites with the minimum of damage to any artifact.
Archaeologists used a small remote controlled robot with a camera to explore a tunnel under the temple of Quetzalcoatl in the pre-Aztec site of Teotihuacan in Mexico. They were expecting to find an underground chamber, but instead found three. The exploration was done by a three-foot long robot named Tlaloc II-TC. The found chambers were probably used for ceremonies, or for burial by the rulers of this site, approximately 2,000 years ago.The 77-pound robot had to maneuver its way through difficult terrain. Now archaeologists can excavate the area to study it further. Peru’s culture ministry is using drones to protect more than 13,000 archaeological sites. Photographs can be taken to a fine degree of accuracy. Depending on the height of the drone, a photo of a room, a site, or an entire valley can be taken. One site that is being monitored by drones is Cerro Chepen on the northern coast of Peru. This was once part of the Moche civilization around 850 A.D. Survey work that was once done in months, costing several thousand dollars, now can be done inexpensively in a matter of minutes.