Terry MadenholmTerry worked on archaeological campaigns in Europe, the Middle East and South America. She contributed to two research projects at the British Museum and an archival conservation project at the Natural History Museum.

On camera, she led an expedition spanning both the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. She travelled the world extensively, though not always to uncover hidden gems- she worked with leading beauty brands in her sideline career as a model. She is an archaeology writer for several global newspapers, and a Project Partner for the US based Drone Archaeology.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I studied the Mediterranean and Near Eastern archaeology (one of my hottest flings), Egyptology, Vikings, and Pre-Columbian cultures. My passion for Pre-Columbian civilizations took me to South America where I was introduced to Tech-archaeology. Today I am a project partner for Drone Archaeology. Our work focuses on identifying threatened archaeological sites and building 3D models of endangered heritage.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I wouldn’t be able to name someone who hasn’t. I always trusted my intuition and was/am lucky to work with talented and ingenious people. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges was working on an archaeological campaign during a military conflict. We were witnessing the bombings. There was a question of suspending the fieldwork – we didn’t.

What’s it like being on an archaeological dig?

You dig, you sweat, and you cover yourself in dirt. Blisters and bruises are regulars. You excavate in countries where temperatures quickly become intolerable. Hence waking up around 4 am is normal and by 5 you’re at the site warming up. You dig away from civilizations, in places that make you forget the rest of the world. Nature is your office, so you can expect Mother Earth to intervene, testing your resistance and adaptation skills. Improbable forms of life become your archaeological pets. An archaeological dig in short.

How does technology help your work? 

At a time when it seems that everything has been uncovered and there is no more land to plant a flag, archaeology is the new frontier to exploration. The use of technology such as satellite imagery helps detect valuable indicators of human past activity in often remote or conflict areas. The use of multi-spectral satellite imagery enables viewing different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum otherwise invisible to the naked eye (and also undetectable with photographic techniques). Analyzing satellite images taken from over 600 km from the Earth’s surface each time makes my heart beat faster.

There is also LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). The scanner creates 3D imagery of ancient remains, even the ones deeply buried in nature. The laser provides more data in a matter of hours than decades-long surveys. So flying above difficult to access, breath-taking landscapes such as the Amazon with the laser attached to a plane or a helicopter never felt more legitimate to me (one of the most deserving additions to the carbon footprint). These non-invasive technologies give a sense of an eagle eye. With the ongoing technological advancement, soon we will be able to virtually unwrap sites without disturbing the state of the archaeological remains.

You often speak about the future of archaeology. Can you give us a sneak peek?

In the future legions of tiny bots will perform archaeological operations while documenting each steps of the process. They will be used to collect samples (for example for DNA testing) without disturbing the integrity of the site. A fleet of autonomously flying drones equipped with thermal infrared and hyperspectral sensors, programmed to work as a unit will detect subsurface architecture in a matter of hours while producing 3D scans. Artificial intelligence will then produce an on-site report based on all the collected data, which will be analyzed by researchers.

For those who like to project themselves into the far future, there will be space archaeology. The orbital garbage we leave behind, the items left by the astronauts during their missions will be archaeologists’ playgrounds, studying human activity in space. Archaeology will eventually leave our planet and expand into the solar system.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Like most archaeologists, I’m still looking for my Holy Grail. Hopefully, I will be able to answer the question before I turn 100.

Do you have any advice for those looking to get into the archaeological field?

Before you decide to pursue archaeology, first go on a dig (you can volunteer). Archaeology is not only physically but also mentally demanding- you constantly push your limits.

While archaeology takes the lead in your life, you are also a model – how do you balance the two careers? 

I became a model at the age of 21. At the time, I was still a student- an archaeologist in the making. Even then I considered myself an archaeologist who happens to be a model on the side. I always prioritized archaeology over modeling.