Cold War era images reveal 10k new sites in Middle East

A new project announced in Austin a few weeks back uses declassified satellite images has revealed as many as 10,000 new archaeological sites in the Middle East:

[T]he new Corona Atlas of the Middle East, unveiled Thursday at the Society for American Archaeology’s annual meeting, moves spy-satellite science to a new level. Surveying land from Egypt to Iran—and encompassing the Fertile Crescent, the renowned cradle of civilization and location of some of humanity’s earliest cities—the atlas reveals numerous sites that had been lost to history.

“Some of these sites are gigantic, and they were completely unknown,” says atlas-team archaeologist Jesse Casana of the University of Arkansas, who presented the results. “We can see all kinds of things—ancient roads and canals. The images provide a very comprehensive picture.”

The team had started with a list of roughly 4,500 known archaeological sites across the Middle East, says Casana. The spy-satellite images revealed another 10,000 that had previously been unknown.

The largest sites, in Syria and Turkey, are most likely Bronze Age cities, he says, and include ruined walls and citadels. Two of them cover more than 123 acres (50 hectares). (See also: “Drought Led to the Collapse of Civilizations.“)

This sounds like a wonderful use of technology, offering some extremely useful comparisons with respect to climate change, migration patterns, etc. But for the illicit heritage trade, this offers a mixed set of challenges and opportunities. Looters have another tool (if they needed one) to find sites. But it also allows an opportunity for nations to harden these sites. The comparison of Apamea today to the satellite image of the same site in the late 1960’s is troubling:

Google image of Apamea
Google image of Apamea

 

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The level of detail in the newer image is stark, but there don’t appear to be the mass-looting pockmarks. What do you all think, does increased technology assist hardening of these sites, or provide a map for looters?

8 thoughts on “Cold War era images reveal 10k new sites in Middle East”

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