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.

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