Armchair archaeologist discovers two thousand potential sites in Saudi Arabia with Google Earth

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Almost two thousand potential archaeological sites in Saudi Arabia have been discovered from an office chair in Perth, Australia, thanks to high-resolution satellite images from Google Earth.

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“I’ve never been to Saudi Arabia,” says David Kennedy from the University of Western Australia, Australia. “It’s not the easiest country to break into.”

Instead Kennedy scanned 1240 square kilometres in Saudi Arabia using Google Earth. From their birds-eye view he found 1977 potential archaeological sites, including 1082 “pendants” – ancient tear-drop shaped tombs made of stone.

According to Kennedy, aerial photography of Saudi Arabia is not made available to most archaeologists, and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to fly over the nation. “But, Google Earth can outflank them,” he says.

Kennedy confirmed that the sites were vestiges of an ancient life – rather than vegetation or shadow – by asking a friend in Saudi Arabia, who is not an archaeologist, to drive out to two of the sites and photograph them.

By comparing the images with structures that Kennedy has seen in Jordan, he believes the sites may be up to 9000 years old, but ground verification is needed. “Just from Google Earth it’s impossible to know whether we have found a Bedouin structure that was made 150 years ago, or 10,000 years ago,” he says.

Since Google Earth was launched five years ago, the field of “armchair archaeology” has blossomed. And it’s been harder for archaeologists to get out of the office, since Spot Image started providing Google Earth with 2.5-metre resolution imagery taken from the SPOT 5 satellite.

In 2008 researchers from Melbourne, Australia, found 463 potential sites in the Registan desert in Afghanistan using the desktop computer program.

Journal Reference: Journal of Archaeological Science, DOI:10.1016/j.jas.2011.01.003


Author: Wendy Zukerman | Source: New Scientist [February 04, 2011]


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