Using Drone-Mounted Lasers, Scientists Find Ancient Bead-Making, Island-Dwelling Community in Florida
by Brigit Katz/Smithsonian.com
Raleigh Island is a long, uninhabited stretch along Florida’s Gulf Coast, where vegetation grows thick and wild. But hundreds of years ago, before Europeans first arrived in North America, Raleigh Island was home to a thriving settlement of bead-makers—a hidden history that is only starting to come to light, thanks to pioneering laser technology.
Experts have long known that humans once lived on the island; according to the Guardian’s Victoria Bekiempis, artifacts were first discovered there in the early 1990s. But archaeologists were largely in the dark about the scope of the settlement, until a happy accident occurred in 2010. Researchers conducting environmental impact surveys in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill stumbled upon a complex of ring structures made of oyster shells—signs of a once large and active community.
Archaeologists were eager to learn more, but because the foliage on the island is so dense, conducting comprehensive ground surveys would have been difficult. So a team of researchers turned to a drone equipped with Light Detection and Ranging, or LiDAR, a remote sensing method that uses a pulsed laser to create topographical maps……