Using Airborne Lidar in Archaeological Survey

The Light Fantastic

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This guidance is designed to help those intending to use airborne laser scanning (ALS), also known as lidar, for archaeological survey. The aim is to help archaeologists, researchers and those who manage the historic environment to decide first, whether using lidar data will actually be beneficial in terms of their research aims, and second, how the data can be used effectively. The guidance will be most useful to those who have access to data that have already been commissioned, or are planning to commission lidar for a specific purpose. They also provide an introduction to data interpretation in order to separate archaeological and non-archaeological features.

Although important themes are introduced, this guidance are not intended as a definitive explanation of the technique or the complexities of acquiring and processing the raw data, particularly as this is a still developing technology. This document is intended to complement 3D Laser Scanning for Heritage, which covers a wider range of uses of laser scanning for heritage purposes (Historic England 2018).

This document is a revision of The Light Fantastic: Using Airborne Lidar in Archaeological Survey published by English Heritage in 2010. The text has largely been maintained except for certain areas where major changes have occurred in the ensuing years. This is particularly true with regard to increased access to data and the wide range of visualisation techniques now available. The case studies have also been updated to reflect more recent survey activity and to include examples from outside Historic England.


  • Introduction
  • Lidar and archaeology
  • Deciding to use lidar
  • Using lidar
  • Woodland survey
  • Conclusions
  • Case studies
  • Decision tree
  • Further resources
  • References
  • Further reading
  • Glossary
  • Acknowledgements

Additional Information

  • Series: Guidance
  • Publication Status: Completed
  • Pages: 98
  • Product Code: HEAG179


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