Drone Advice chats with archaeologist and licensed drone operator, Joshua Davis, about how drones are being used by his professional archaeology and heritage management consultancy, Major Oak Heritage Services.

Joshua founded Major Oak Heritage Services in 2018 and is the Managing Director and Principal Archaeologist. Joshua specialises in both Aboriginal and historic archaeology, and is also skilled in photogrammetry and the production of high-quality 3D models. Joshua rounds out the interview by generously providing a couple of tips for other professionals looking to integrate drones into their work. 

DroneAdvice: What sparked your initial interest in drones and what type of drone do you fly?

Joshua: I first began to develop an interest in drones while I was working as an archaeologist for a company based in Fremantle, WA. We used drone footage to capture historical excavations and then I would process the information to create 3D models.

When I started my own company, Major Oak Heritage Services, my focus and interest in photogrammetry naturally led me to drones, which is when I decided to become a fully qualified remote pilot. Whilst working, I soon realised that a drone can capture vast amounts of information in far less time.

As such, I am attempting to alter how we in the archaeological profession record heritage sites, by using drone footage as a standard tool for mapping, photography and presentation of these amazing places.

Australian Outback 2
Australian Outback. I would like to acknowledge and thank the Eastern Guruma people for allowing me to use their photos and images of their cultural heritage.

I am currently using a DJI Mavic 2 Pro. This drone is ideal for my needs, as it is compact, stable and has a very good flight time per battery – usually 2-3 batteries will last me the entire day.

DroneAdvice: It looks like you’re doing some really fascinating archaeological and anthropological work in a few of the more remote (and hotter) parts of Australia. Can you give the readers a snapshot of what this entails?

Joshua: I work in both Indigenous and historic archaeology and specialise in photogrammetry and remotely piloted aircraft systems surveying, to provide 3D models of archaeological sites, features, objects and much more.

Recently, I have been undertaking heritage surveys in the Pilbara, working with Aboriginal Traditional Owner Groups and various mining companies. This often involves walking surveys across areas proposed for development and looking for archaeological sites, recording any sites located, and providing advice on management strategies to stakeholders in accordance with the heritage legislation.

The highlight for me is the opportunity to work alongside and develop meaningful relationships with the Aboriginal Traditional Owners and to learn about their culture, traditions and way of life.

Rex Stevens and Joshua Davis    

Eastern Guruma Traditional Owner Mr Rex Stevens and Archaeologist Joshua Davis of Major Oak Heritage Services having a great time discussing Mr Stevens’ culture. I would like to acknowledge and thank the Eastern Guruma people for allowing me to use their photos and images of their cultural heritage. Photograph by Jo Thomson of Thomson Cultural Heritage Management.
DroneAdvice: Besides the heat, what are some of the challenges you’ve encountered while flying drones for your work?

Joshua: One of the major issues I have encountered is the magnetic/metallic properties of the landscape that I work in. This can cause severe issues with the GPS, compass and control range systems. This means that quite often I need to be prepared to control the drone without assistance as a result of these interferences. Also, I need to constantly alter my safety protocols to prevent and minimise the risks to my team and the aircraft.

Another issue is the storage of LIPO batteries, when everything including the vehicles can reach 50+ degree heat. Sometimes, you need to leave the spares in the esky with ice, to prevent fires and failure of the equipment.

Australian Outback    

The typical type of landscapes that Major Oak Heritage Services work in. I would like to acknowledge and thank the Eastern Guruma people for allowing me to use their photos and images of their cultural heritage.
DroneAdvice: Do you have any tips for fellow professionals in your line of work who might be using drones or looking to use drones?

Joshua: The main tip I have is to really evaluate what you require from your drone. For me, the Mavic 2 Pro was the natural choice, as it provides an amazing compromise between size, weight, battery life and image/footage quality. However, if you are using the drone in cities, or areas that are easily accessible with a vehicle, you can afford to sacrifice compact size and weight for a heavier, larger remotely piloted aircraft system that can mount higher-spec camera system payloads.

If you don’t have a drone, I’d definitely recommend doing a bit of research to see whether this is the type of thing that could be a useful value-add for your business – you could be very surprised. 

Thanks for reading!

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Photos by Major Oak Heritage Services (unless stated otherwise), courtesy of the Eastern Guruma people. You can get in touch with Joshua, via the Major Oak Heritage Services website or via FacebookInstagram or Twitter.