Google Earth, Satellite Maps Boost Armchair Archaeology

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
November 7, 2006

Part of the Digital Places Special News Series
More Digital Places Stories>>

Satellite images are giving archaeologists a bird's-eye view of our past—by helping them quickly identify ancient sites from space.

Scott Madry, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has been pinpointing possible archaeological sites in France with the popular desktop program Google Earth.

The freely available software is a virtual globe created with a collection of mixed-resolution images from both government and private satellite sources.

"Frankly I was floored," Madry said. "I was just shocked at the results that I was able to get."

Madry's online explorations began when he read an article about an Italian man who "stumbled" across an ancient Roman villa while using the popular service to check out his own house.

"I hadn't thought of Google Earth as a serious scientific tool before [reading the story]," Madry said.

(Related news: "Satellite-Photo Atlas Uses Digital Globe to Show Eco Damage" [October 23, 2006].)

Confirming the Technique

Satellite data available online are spotty and vary greatly in resolution, from 0.6-meter-per-pixel (2-feet-per-pixel) resolution to 15-meters-per-pixel (50-feet-per-pixel) views.

Madry's research area in Burgundy had no high-resolution data available in Google Earth, so he turned his eyes to a nearby region that shared similar environmental and cultural histories.

"I started doing a very quick and cursory visual survey, and boom. I began finding sites within the first half an hour," he said.

Continued on Next Page >>




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