In the Mexican desert, there are remnants of a Pueblo society that once flourished centuries ago. An archaeologist by the name of John Kantner from the University of North Florida has been working on the red sands for about 20 years in a quest to find prehistoric spiritual edifices. These edifices are called kivas. Very similar to chapels, kivas were rooms where members of the Chaco group conducted various ceremonies and rituals. As time passed, these rooms ended up buried under the dirt of the earth.

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From Foot to Drones

During his time in the desert, Kanter had found some kivas, but the quest for these subterranean structures on foot was not the most ideal set up as it was telling heavily on the available resources. Following in the footstep of many other archaeologists, he made the decision to employ drones to transform the way he worked.


When something is buried in the ground, it retains heat in a way much different compared to the surrounding soil. So Kantner used the drones equipped with thermal imaging to zero in on little temperature variations. He worked hand in hand with Jesse Casana who is an archaeologist from the University of Arkansas with previous experience with these aerial machines and thermal imaging in Cyprus and Iraq.

The Drones

They used the drones a number of times when the temperatures in the desert were coolest and the drones were able to capture heat patterns every second. Every image gathered from the drones were delivered to a workstation on the ground, and these images stitched together created a mosaic of what was the whole area. With enough luck, the team was able to spot heat signals below the sand, which revealed more kivas.

“In the end, it was two hours of work to find something that I’ve spent years trying to find,” said Kantner. “That’s pretty remarkable.” The findings were published in the Journal of Archaeological Sciences.


Ultimately, archaeologists have discovered around 450 geoglyphs in the areas near the jungle by making use of extras such as Google Earth, and some people are of the opinion that these discoveries indicate that there are more to be found within the Amazon Forest.

Although the structures can be as huge as 300 meters, they are not so easy to spot from the ground. According to Khan, who is responsible for developing the drones and its sensors, “You cannot see them very well if you are on top of them, especially if they are hidden under the forest. So the only way to actually see them is from a high vantage point.”


Together with his team, Khan will make arrangements to operate a drone similar to a single-passenger plane over some sections of the forest where they will search for heaps, trenches, and dark soil patches, which may point to primordial human dwellings.

“We’re hoping to find all these artworks,” said Khan. “The discovery of new archaeological features would stimulate the community a lot.”

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