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Remote Sensing & Aerial Photography


In order to obtain a first picture of the archaeology of the Jebel Qurma region, the area was initially studied through remote sensing. Optical satellite imagery as well as aerial photographs were used to map archaeological features visible from the air. A total of 229 preliminary archaeological sites were mapped in this way before actual fieldwork was carried out.


CORONA optical satellite imagery

Taken by American spy satellites during the 1960s and ’70s of the 20th century, and declassified for non-military purposes in 1995, CORONA optical satellite images now provide remote sensing data for archaeological landscape projects in many parts of the world. Their resolution is remarkably high – up to 1.8 m – and they are mostly available free of charge. Two digitised black-and-white CORONA images, together covering the entire research area, were studied systematically for potential archaeological features. The features that could be observed were mainly constructed of basalt, which was picked up from the surface and piled to form a cairn, a wall, and so on, thereby exposing the lighter coloured subsurface. The contrast between the structures of dark basalt and the light coloured exposed subsurface is very well visible on the CORONA images, which made it possible to recognise hundreds of archaeological features within the basalt range. These features included various kinds of enclosures, cairns, desert kites, and walls, all made of basalt boulders. After these features were mapped, they were grouped into preliminary archaeological sites.



One of the CORONA images on which the archaeological sites (orange dots) have been mapped.



Archaeological sites in the research area visible on a CORONA image



APAAME aerial photographs

Another important source of remote sensing data consisted of aerial photographs,acquired from the Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East (APAAME). In contrast to the satellite imagery, which covers the Jebel Qurma landscape as a whole, the aerial photographs provide detailed information on site-level. Many additional features within sites could be mapped on the basis on this imagery, such as smaller features and installations, pathways running between structures, and so on. Also, the photographs proved to be very useful for documenting data during fieldwork. When standing in the field, in a landscape dominated by basalt, it can become quite difficult to recognise archaeological remains which mainly consist of basalt as well. This problem can be overcome when you can look at an aerial photograph of the site you are standing on.



APAAME aerial photo of the grouped enclosures ("wheels") identified earlier on CORONA imagery (photo by David Kennedy: APAAME_20111027_DLK-0233)


The archaeological sites observed on satellite imagery and aerial photographs have provided a first insight into the archaeology of the Jebel Qurma landscape, in terms of site type variability and site distribution and location. It could also serve as a basis for subsequent fieldwork.In the near future, satellite photographs of higher resolution may be available which may show additional archaeological features. Furthermore, a joint project with the remote sensing department of Delft University of Technology has been initiated to explore the potential of RADAR satellite imagery in the research area.


A poster on the remote sensing project was presented at the 2nd International Landscape Archaeology Conference (Berlin, June 2012). Click here for a PDF of the poster.