ArchaeoCafé Podcast – Episode 2-24 – Using LiDAR in archaeology: An interview with Sarah Smith

hosted by Otis Crandell

In this episode I talk with Sarah Smith about the use of LiDAR in archaeology and her research at the Highland Valley Copper Mine.

Listen to this episode online:



Some useful terminology and links

LiDAR (“light detection and ranging” or “laser imaging, detection, and ranging”)
A method used in archaeology to make digital 3D representations of areas on the earth’s surface. It can reveal micro-topography that is otherwise hidden by vegetation.

GIS (Geographic Information Systems)
A conceptualized framework that provides the ability to capture and analyse spatial and geographic data

Digital Elevation Model (DEM)
A 3D computer graphics representation of elevation data to represent terrain.

Relief Visualization Toolbox (RVT)
A tool kit to help scientists visualise raster elevation model datasets.

A visualisation tool for DEMs in which the relief is shaded. It is useful for visualizing the terrain.

Hillshade azimuth
The azimuth is the angular direction of the sun, measured from north in clockwise degrees from 0 to 360. An azimuth of 90 degrees is east. The default azimuth is 315 degrees (NW).

Sky-View Factor Based Visualization
Considers how much of the sky is visible from a specific point on the landscape.

Principal component analysis (PCA)
A statistical method used in exploratory data analysis and for making predictive models. It is commonly used for dimensionality reduction.

Local relief model
A GIS tool for visualising elevation data stored in raster as a DEM. It represents local, small-scale elevation differences by removing the large-scale landscape forms from the data, leaving only the archaeological features and their relative elevation above or below the terrain. It is often employed in analysis of LiDAR data.

Feature extraction
In machine learning, pattern recognition, and image processing, feature extraction involves reducing the number of resources required to describe a large set of data. Manual feature extraction requires identifying and describing the features that are relevant for a given problem and implementing a way to extract those features.

Highland Valley Copper Mine
The largest open-pit copper mine in Canada, located near Logan Lake, British Columbia.

Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council
A First Nations government Tribal Council comprising bands in the Fraser Canyon and Thompson Canyon areas of the Canadian province of British Columbia.

Cache pit
A hole dug inside of a house, used to store food for the winter.

Scatter site (lithic scatter site, lithic scatter)
A site consisting primarily of lithic flakes and other stone tool use remnants. They are used to study past inhabitants and are often the only evidence remaining.


Selected reading

Analysis of the efficacy of LiDAR data as a tool for archaeological prospection at the Highland Valley Copper Mine
by Sarah Smith
Masters thesis at Simon Fraser University, Department of Archaeology, 2021, 153 pages.

LiDAR’s Potential for Improving Archaeological Field Inventories in British Columbia, Indigenous Archaeology, and Beyond
SFU Student News, 2021

Airborne LiDAR, archaeology, and the ancient Maya landscape at Caracol, Belize
by Arlen F. Chase and others
Journal of Archaeological Science, 2011, vol. 38(2), p. 387-398

Geospatial revolution and remote sensing LiDAR in Mesoamerican archaeology
by Arlen F. Chase and others
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 2012, vol. 109(32), p. 12916-12921

Airborne LiDAR-Derived Digital Elevation Model for Archaeology
by Benjamin Štular, Edisa Lozić and Stefan Eichert
Remote Sensing, 2021, vol. 13(9), article 1855, 21 pages.

LiDAR-derived Local Relief Models – a new tool for archaeological prospection
by Ralf Hesse
Archaeological Prospection, 2010, vol. 17(2), p. 67-72


About Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is a senior archaeologist and project manager at Stantec, based in Burnaby, in British Columbia, Canada. Throughout her career, she has worked on and directed cultural resource management projects throughout the province of British Columbia. She completed a master’s degree in heritage resource management at the Department of Archaeology at Simon Fraser University. Her research at SFU, conducted in collaboration with the Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council and Teck Resources, focused on the efficacy of LiDAR data as a tool for archaeological prospection and was based on her work at the Highland Valley Copper Mine.




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