Nearshore areas around the world contain a wide variety of archeological structures, including prehistoric remains submerged by sea level rise during the Holocene glacial retreat. While natural processes, such as erosion, rising sea level, and exceptional climatic events have always threatened the integrity of this submerged cultural heritage, the importance of protecting them is becoming increasingly critical with the expanding effects of global climate change and human activities. Aerial archaeology, as a non-invasive technique, contributes greatly to documentation of archaeological remains. In an underwater context, the difficulty of crossing the water column to reach the bottom and its potential archaeological information usually requires active remote-sensing technologies such as airborne LiDAR bathymetry or ship-borne acoustic soundings. More recently, airborne hyperspectral passive sensors have shown potential for accessing water-bottom information in shallow water environments. While hyperspectral imagery has been assessed in terrestrial continental archaeological contexts, this study brings new perspectives for documenting submerged archaeological structures using airborne hyperspectral remote sensing. Airborne hyperspectral data were recorded in the Visible Near Infra-Red (VNIR) spectral range (400–1000 nm) over the submerged megalithic site of Er Lannic (Morbihan, France). The method used to process these data included (i) visualization of submerged anomalous features using a minimum noise fraction transform, (ii) automatic detection of these features using Isolation Forest and the Reed–Xiaoli detector and (iii) morphological and spectral analysis of archaeological structures from water-depth and water-bottom reflectance derived from the inversion of a radiative transfer model of the water column. The results, compared to archaeological reference data collected from in-situ archaeological surveys, showed for the first time the potential of airborne hyperspectral imagery for archaeological mapping in complex shallow water environments.
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