Automatic detection of burial mounds (kurgans) in the Altai Mountains

Fen Chen, Rui Zhou, Tim Van de Voorde, Xingzhuang Chen, Jean Bourgeois, Wouter Gheyle, Jian Yang, Wenbo Xu

Onderzoeksoutput: Articlepeer review

4 Citaten (Scopus)


The Altai Mountains are one of the most impressive and valuable archaeological areas in the world. Kurgans (burial mounds) of ancient civilizations, which are scattered across the vast Altai area, are an exceptionally valuable source of information for archaeology. These precious archaeological resources, which sometimes have been preserved intact in the permafrost underground for over two millennia, are now under various threats, such as natural disasters, farmland expansion, touristic development, and most notably global warming. A detailed map or inventory of the mounds is essential but is still not available. In this study, we test the deep convolutional neural network (CNN) technique for automatic detection of stone mounds from high-resolution satellite images in four regions in the Altai Mountains. We propose three improvement techniques to increase the performance of off-the-shelf object detection methods that are originally proposed for daily-life objects. Our results demonstrate that it is feasible to apply CNN to detect stone mounds, and the detection results are good enough to capture their spatial distribution. CNN-based object detection can largely narrow down the search area for archaeologists in yet un-surveyed regions, and is therefore useful for preparing field survey campaigns and directing archaeological fieldwork. We also applied the method to an un-surveyed Altai Mountain area and successfully discovered stone mounds that are yet undocumented. Our method can potentially be applied to construct an inventory for all stone mounds present in the whole Altai Mountain region.

Originele taal-2English
Pagina's (van-tot)217-237
Aantal pagina's21
TijdschriftISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing
StatusPublished - jul 2021


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