LIMA, Aug. 26 (UPI) -- Archaeologists in Peru say they've turned to small drones to speed up surveys and protect sites from squatters, builders and miners.
With the price of drone technology dropping, researchers have been able to use the remote-controlled aircraft to create three-dimensional models of historic Peruvian sites in days and weeks instead of months and years, Britain's The Guardian reported.
Mapping sites is a vital first step before major excavation work can begin and has typically required tedious ground-level observations.
Camera-equipped drones can reduce the time needed to just weeks or even days, archaeologists said.
Speed has become an issue as Peru's economy grows and development pressures have surpassed looting as the main threat to the country's cultural treasures, officials said.
"With this technology, I was able to do in a few days what had taken me years to do," said Luis Jaime Castillo, a Peruvian archaeologist with Lima's Catholic University who is also an incoming deputy culture minister.
Drones can help safeguard archaeological heritage, researchers said, as the Culture Ministry struggles to protect Peru's more than 13,000 sites.
Only about 2,500 have been properly marked off, they said.
"And when a site is not properly demarcated, it is illegally occupied, destroyed, wiped from the map," said Blanca Alva, an official with the ministry charged with oversight.
With an annual archaeology budget of just $4.6 million, the low-cost drones are seen as an attractive technology.
"We see them as a vital tool for conservation," Ana Maria Hoyle, an archaeologist with the ministry, said.