Tuesday 30 August 2011

Big Circles

Image: Google Earth. Please click to enlarge.

Philip and Bradbury (2010) published a large nearly perfect circular enclosure in their survey of the region surrounding Homs in Syria. In the satellite imagery dated to April 2003 in Google Earth its full circuit is almost completely visible and can be measured at over 340m in diameter. The survey dated the site from associated material evidence to the 4th or early 3rd millennia BC. The most recent imagery in August 2010 shows that all trace of the site has been obliterated by the increasing use of the region for agriculture.

Philip and Bradbury note no other circles of similar size in Syria, or further afield in Jordan – their largest counterparts are c. 100 m. However, several – perhaps as many as 12, are known, all of them in Jordan, and a few have been published.

All but one of these unusual sites have been found from aerial photographs or satellite imagery. The characteristic feature of these Big Circles is their size – apart from one that is c. 220-250m in diameter, all of the others are in the range of c. 350-450m with several almost exactly 400m. Most are near-perfect circles, they have low encircling walls, no clear evidence for any original break in the circuit and no certain evidence of any internal structures. The slender evidence tends to point – as with the Syrian example, to a prehistoric date

We are currently mapping, describing and analyzing these sites as an aerial archaeological research project. If you've got any ideas, please feel free to drop us a comment!

-D.L. Kennedy, R.E. Banks

This blog entry was derived from an in progress publication by D.L. Kennedy 'Big Circles'. For further information please consult: Philip, G. and Bradbury, J. (2010) 'Pre-Classical activity in the basalt landscape of the Homs Region, Syria', Levant, 42.2: 136-169.

Friday 19 August 2011

Comparing sites

Events of the recent past have not been kind to the archaeology of Iraq. Massive agricultural works and the expansion of modern cities (and, in some cases, large-scale illicit excavation) have altered many sites and landscapes beyond recognition. As we compare historical aerial photographs with recent satellite images, it's gratifying to find sites where the archaeology appears to have survived relatively unscathed. This is part of the incredible sprawling ruins of the Islamic period city north of Samarra, which seems to have changed little since it was photographed in 1918 by pilots of the Royal Air Force. This image and hundreds from the same time period are now housed in the National Archives, London.

Monday 15 August 2011

What a find!

Image: Google Earth

Today we came across a region of northern Syria while using Google Earth that is amazingly complex. Despite this area being currently used for agriculture, the numerous stone built structures and remnants of previous land use have survived the hoe. Here is a small window to give you a taste of this tantalising area! What can you see? (Click on the image to see a larger version)

Tuesday 9 August 2011

The Harret al-Shaam and aerial reconnaissance

Approximate extent of the Harret al-Shaam. Drawn by Mat Dalton.

The Harret al-Shaam is the most northerly of the basalt lavafields that mark the Arabian landscape from Syria in the north, down the western side of the Arabian Peninsula to Yemen in the South. The Harrat Ash-Sham, which itself stretches from Syria through Jordan and into Saudi Arabia, was first noted to contain remarkable stone structures visible from the air by the RAF pilots that flew across it on the airmail route from Cairo to Baghdad.

It is only recently that a more systematic aerial survey of the Harrat over Jordan has been started (Kennedy, D. L., Bewley, R. H., 2009. Aerial Archaeology in Jordan. Antiquity. 83, 69–81) but most countries in the greater Arabia area will not allow aerial reconnaissance or provide aerial imagery. Virtual globes such as Google Earth however provide accessible high resolution satellite imagery for sections of this expansive archaeological landscape which are being continually updated.

The original known distribution of the stone structures first captured in the lenses of RAF pilots, thought to be only located in the basalt lavafields of Jordan, has now been expanded dramatically. Google Earth has allowed for the number of Kites identified on the Harrat ash-Sham alone to increase dramatically - the most recent count (early 2011) was for c. 1600 Kites.
Distribution of the principle lava-fields. Drawn by Stafford Smith.

Bing Maps for Site Identification

After spending about 20 hours in the last week working with Bing Maps (i.e. their aerial/ satellite imagery) I can report that:
It is slow and difficult to work with compared to GE
It is mainly poor resolution of no value archaeologically
Where it is good it is often superb.
For parts of 'Arabia' where Bing is superor to GE I have identified over 100 new Kites (to take just the most obvious cateory)


Friday 5 August 2011

Jordan Jarani Kites

Traced some massive kites from the Jarani area in Jordan today. These two kites' tails stretch for hundreds of metres and intersect a few camp like features. They only stop at the edge of a massive mud pan. Unfortunately one of the kites has had a bulldozer plough straight through the head, but it can still be clearly seen that there are two phases to the shape of the head. The tails of these Jordanian kites are confusing because the way the tails criss-cross means that the believed function of the kite - to funnel animals into an enclosed area for capture or killing, is interrupted.

Thursday 4 August 2011

New beginnings, old material

This is what is going to be the blog of the many people working with APAAME: the Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East. We hope to take you with us as we conduct our field work in Jordan this year and keep you updated on our other research during the year. There are many interesting things we do when not in a helicopter flying over archaeological sites (we promise to try and leave out the not-so-interesting bits).

So, where to start? We have been looking at archaeological sites in Saudi Arabia recently using Google Earth. Our first case study conducted by David Kennedy and Mike Bishop on a high resolution area near Jeddah (published in the Journal of Archaeological Science) was picked up by the media who were amazed at the sheer number of new sites found. Well, we have moved on to another window, and we have found another site type.
This is a Segmented Trumpet near the town of Al-Hiyat. As you can see, it is laid out quite strikingly on a mud pan and can be seen quite clearly in the Google Earth image here. This has allowed us to trace it which will allow us to compare it to other similar sites that we may find. The ground photographs show that the site was built using basalt rocks from old lava flows, or Harrats, and though most of the walls are now rubble, some systematic building of walls can still be seen in sections.