Ancient human settlements discovered via satellite images, study says

By on Mar 20, 2012 in Health, Science, World Comments

Thousands of ancient human settlements have been recently discovered, after scientists from Harvard University have discovered a new technique to analyze soil formation via satellite images.

As noted at Discovery News on Tuesday, March 20, 2012, anthropologist Jason Ur and computer scientist Bjoern Menze have identified early human settlement sites in Fertile Crescent, or the so-called “”cradle of civilization”.

According to the report, Ur and Menze have developed a way to measure mounds of athrosol, a type of soil formation formed by long-term human activity, in multi-wavelength satellite image, and found the ancient sites in the old Mesopotamia.

As an example, Tell Brak in northern Syria being the largest site known in the discovery, reportedly contains about 8 million cubic meters of decayed mud brick and rises about 40 meters (131 feet) above ground.

“Soil discoloration is one of the characteristics of archaeological sites in this part of the world. The mounds that we find are entirely artificial creations on an otherwise relatively flat plain,” Ur was quoted in an email to Discovery News.

“If this process continues for centuries or millennia, settlements grow vertically,” Ur added, noting that scientists have already mapped more than 14,000 sites, spanning 8,000 years of human settlement in northeast Syria.

Apparently, scientists were noted to have been using anthrosols to locate settlement sites for a decade, but were limited to ground observations and declassified black-and-white spy satellite imagery.

“Multi-spectral imagery opens up new possibilities for identifying ancient places because now we can look for these distinctive soil discolorations not only in the visible part of the spectrum but also beyond the abilities of our eyes.” Ur explained further.

Based on the study, which also appeared at Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, scientists used imagery from a sensor on NASA‘s Terra satellite to detect the telltale sediments.



Multi-spectral satellite imagery at Tell Brak (Left), and its distribution of surface artifacts
Image Credit: Menze and Ur/PNAS


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