Electrical Resistivity

Electrical Resistivity

Earth resistance was one of the first geophysical methods applied to archaeology, as early as 1946

Electrical resistance survey (also called earth resistance or resistivity survey) is a geo-electrical prospecting technique commonly used in archaeological research. Earth resistance was one of the first geophysical methods applied to archaeology, as early as 1946. It involves mapping buried features by feeding electric current into the ground and taking resistance measures at particular points. Such resistance is highly dependent on the distribution of moisture in soils affected by drainage, the presence of structures and soil porosity. In electrical resistance survey for archaeological purposes, an array of multiple electrodes is required to undertake fieldwork. Within two pairs of electrodes, current passes through one pair and resistance is measured by the other pair. There are different electrodes configurations and different distances between them, which provide significant variations in results (e.g. Wenner array, double dipole and twin-probes array, etc.). Compared to other geophysical methods, earth resistance is a relatively slow method since surveyors should push mobile probes into the ground every fixed distance, which takes some time. The most suitable conditions for earth resistance surveys are the presence of sedimentary soils, lack of rock outcrops on the surface, limited short vegetation and a well-drained season.  In general, any buried archaeological remain have physical properties that differ from the surroundings, so that the electrical resistivity survey technique is very suitable for detecting walls, ditches, burials, roads, etc.

False colour map of the electrical resistivity survey in the Roman villa of Masseria Ciccotti (Oppido Lucano, Potenza). Data acquisition 4 hours.

The instrument used by ArcheoRes – Archaeological Research Group is a Geoscan RM15.


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