Satellite images spy ancient history in Syria

August 3, 2006

Ancient human settlements in Syria have been revealed in declassified spy satellite images by a small team of researchers led by ANU PhD student Mandy Mottram.

The survey team found Early Islamic pottery factories, a hilltop complex of megalithic tombs and conclusively identified remains from around 130,000 years ago during their latest trip to the Euphrates River valley.

The area is based northeast of Syria’s second largest city Aleppo. The current investigations complement two decades of work excavating at the ancient fortress site of Jebel Khalid by a team from ANU and the University of Melbourne, led by Emeritus Professor Graeme Clarke.

Jebel Khalid was established in the wake of Alexander the Great’s conquest of Western Asia and the acquisition of the territory of Syria by Alexander’s general, Seleukos, in the third century BC.

Ms Mottram’s team aims to establish for the first time a record of human occupation in the area, from the first arrival of early human groups between 1 million and 700,000 years ago, to Ottoman times.

The satellite images, from the United States’ CORONA program, were photographed in the late 1960s, and declassified in the late 1990s. They are valuable because they show the landscape prior to disturbance by the rapid agricultural development that is now taking place across much of Syria.

Painstaking analysis of the images is complemented in the field by use of GPS and GIS techniques to build up a comprehensive picture of landscape features and promising sites for closer study and excavation.

Significant results from the survey team’s most recent trip to the region include the conclusive identification of Middle Palaeolithic [c.130,000-40,000 years ago] remains on Jebel Khalid, the location of two major Early Islamic pottery factories, and the identification of a hilltop complex of megalithic tombs, similar to the dolmens found in Europe.

“The dolmen site in particular is a significant find, because in other parts of the Middle East these structures are usually associated with Bronze Age pastoral peoples,” Ms Mottram said. “Nomadic and semi-nomadic pastoralists leave very few archaeological marks, so the find will help us to understand the interplay between pastoralists and farmers at that time. Work is already planned for 2007 to fully research this remarkable site.”

The team has already used the images to identify major archaeological features including a hilltop Byzantine basilica, and a 24 hectare fortified town dating to the Early Bronze Age. The images also identify smaller scale remains, including ancient villages, cemeteries, and farmsteads.

Source: Australian National University

Explore further: Team looks in detail at the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal

Related Stories

Team looks in detail at the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal

August 6, 2015

For more than 20 years, Caltech geologist Jean-Philippe Avouac has collaborated with the Department of Mines and Geology of Nepal to study the Himalayas—the most active, above-water mountain range on Earth—to learn more ...

South African Large Telescope Makes Its Debut

September 1, 2005

Exactly five years after groundbreaking, the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) project has released its first colour images, marking the achievement of 'first light' and the successful debut of full operation for SALTICAM, ...

The unbearable sensation of being

June 29, 2018

Cindy was cradling her 9-month-old son, Elias, against her chest when she and a room full of family simultaneously yelled "Surprise!" to an unsuspecting aunt on her birthday. The outburst shot like a bolt of electricity through ...

Recommended for you

High-energy X-ray bursts from low-energy plasma

February 19, 2019

Solar flares shouldn't produce X-rays, but they do. Why? The one-size-fits-all approach to electron collisions misses a lucky few that lead to an intense X-ray burst. Scientists thought there were too many electron-scattering ...

Breakthrough in the search for graphene-based electronics

February 19, 2019

For 15 years, scientists have tried to exploit the "miracle material" graphene to produce nanoscale electronics. On paper, graphene should be great for just that: it is ultra-thin—only one atom thick and therefore two-dimensional, ...

Observation of quantized heating in quantum matter

February 19, 2019

Shaking a physical system typically heats it up, in the sense that the system continuously absorbs energy. When considering a circular shaking pattern, the amount of energy that is absorbed can potentially depend on the orientation ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.