'Tech can help avoid destruction of hidden archaeological sites'
New Delhi : Even after setting boundaries around prominent heritage sites, buried archaeological foundations in close proximity can still go undetected -- something that can be resolved through tech-based interventions like satellite imagery and remote sensing, landscape archaeologist and geo-spatial researcher, M.B. Rajani said here.
"In the periphery of a site, there are buried remains that are not exposed. An archaeologist can recognise them but a lay man can only recognise what is presented as heritage to them," she said.
"For buried remains, if you leave it, some archaeologist will come and study and expose it," the researcher, who has worked in sites like Nalanda Mahavihara, Bodh Gaya, Vijayanagara and Srirangapatna told IANS on the sidelines of the two-day conference on "EU-India Partnership for Cultural Heritage Conservation" that concluded on Wednesday at the National Museum here.
Pointing to a birds-eye map of the Unesco world heritage site of Mahabodhi Temple in Bihar's Bodh Gaya, the Bengaluru-based National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) professor said a lot of urbanisation had occurred since 2002 -- the year the heritage status was accorded -- leading to loss of ‘potential' buried remains surrounding the temple.
This, she said, is where boundaries come in.
Put simply, improper demarcation often leads to burying of sites (under hotels and other support for tourists) not detected and excavated yet -- a threat that can be allayed using technology available today.
To ensure that heritage sites do not fall victim to their own heritage tag, it then becomes important to demarcate using "geo-spatial research, GPS, new and old maps, and visits to the site" that increases the chances of "having included more remains" within the limits set.
Rajani has been an assistant professor in the M.Tech GIS programme at NIIT University, Neemrana in Rajasthan, Fellow of Nalanda University in Bihar, and guest faculty at Indian Institute of Technology-Gandhinagar in Gujarat, along with a post-doctoral associate at NIAS, and a doctoral scholar at NIAS. She was awarded a Ph.D for her thesis titled 'Space-based archaeological investigations' by University of Mysore in 2011.
So how can technology help?
"We are ant-sized when we look at archaeological sites physically. When we see it from a distance from satellite imagery, then we see a pattern and identify what was the larger extent of Nalanda or any other site," she said.
"Because infrared can see what eyes cannot, they can indicate a variety of factors, for instance the difference in colour of vegetation, which can indicate buried foundations. If there's a ditch, and there's a buried foundation in it, the vegetation growing on it will be less healthy," explained the former student of UK's University College and the Mysore University.
Speaking about the current regulations of demarcating up to 100-200 metres around sites that are protected, Rajani also argued in favour of setting tailor-made boundaries.
"It's not that regulations of Unesco or ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) are not well thought-out, but still wrong things can happen and today they can be easily detected with technology. So why not use it?"
(Siddhi Jain can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)