Spy satellite imagery utilised by archaeologists to survey remote areas

Satellite data, along with U.S. spy satellite and military drone images are being used by archaeologists to view remote sites in Afghanistan that are too dangerous for researchers to visit.

Walled city of Sar-O-Tar (by DigitalGlobe)

American and Afghan researchers are finding thousands of never-before-catalogued ancient sites in the country in a collaboration funded by the U.S. Department of State with a 2-million-dollar grant. American Schools of Oriental Research claims to have recently more than tripled the number of published archaeological features in Afghanistan, to more than 4500. Among the recent finds made by The Afghan Heritage Mapping Partnership directed by archaeologist Gil Stein are for example 119 caravanserais from the late 16th and early 17th centuries spaced approximately every 20 kilometres, which linked the capital of the powerful Safavid Empire, Isfahan, Iran, with the Mughal Empire that then dominated the Indian subcontinent. Gil Stein  is also overseeing the creation of a geographical information system for the Afghan Institute of Archaeology in Kabul and Kabul Polytechnic University, which could guide future development and serve as a model for other central Asian nations.

Caravanserai spotted by a satellite (by DigitalGlobe)

In the area of the Balkh Oasis bordering Uzbekistan researchers Anthony Lauricella and Emily Hammer examined extremely high resolution satellite and aerial images obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They revealed more than 1000 ancient villages, towns, or cities built over more than a millennium as the Balkhab River shifted course from the early centuries BC. The data will help archaeologists trace a central locus of the Silk Road linking Europe and China.

Map of Afganistan where the sites are being surveyed (by Science)

The research is also aided by unpublished fieldwork conducted in the 1970 before the Soviet invasion. The documentation of a team that surveyed 40000 square kilometres of the Sistan and Helmand regions contains 15000 photos and dozens of field notebooks on more than 200 sites that were pinpointed then. This documentation has been stored so far in the garage of William Trousdale of the Smithsonian Institution, but now it’s being used as it was meant to be. This documentation contains notes on sites such as a variety of religious buildings, including Buddhist stupas, Zoroastrian fire temples, and Hellenistic sanctuaries with both Greek and Aramaic characters written on stone slabs.

(after Science & DigitalGlobe)

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