Spies, Satellites and Archaeology: Mapping the Ancient Middle East

How can spy satellite images help archaeologists?  And what use is GIS technology in uncovering centuries-old, long-gone trade routes?  Come join the Chicago Council on Science and Technology (C2ST) at the Oriental Institute of University of Chicago for Spies, Satellites and Archaeology: Mapping the Ancient Middle East on Thursday, March 7.

CAMEL, (the Center for Ancient Middle Eastern Landscapes), housed at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, was started in the late 1990s. The project aims to aid archaeologists in surveying ancient sites with as little disturbance as possible. Data from aerial photographs, maps, satellite images and other historical data are organized and overlaid, providing a more comprehensive look at a site over time. With this data, researchers can identify how trade routes developed, and how cities grew and its inhabitants may have interacted.

During the first half of the 20th century, including during wartime, some archaeologists functioned within intelligence communities.  They had local knowledge and technical expertise useful in generating military and political intelligence to advance their countries’ wartime agendas.  They also used the data and surveillance techniques available to pursue their own archaeological agendas and research programs.  With the advent of spy satellites in the 1950’s, advanced technologies emerged for use by the intelligence community, and this wealth of information has been of great use to archaeologists since its declassification.

CAMEL researchers combine old, hand-drawn trade-route maps, the spy satellite data and images, aerial photographs, both old and new, and newer technologies, such as topographical maps and GIS positioning data, to create as comprehensive a picture of an ancient site as possible.

Even today, archaeologists and the military interact. In Iraq and Afghanistan, data has been used to avoid digging trenches or other disturbances over archeological significant sites, if feasible alternatives exist. If historically significant sites have been bombed or looted, researchers are able to pore over aerial photographs and data to see what was damaged or potentially lost, and are able to keep an eye out on for stolen artifacts being trafficked and alert authorities.

Scott Branting, director of the Center for Ancient Middle Eastern Landscapes (CAMEL) and a research assistant professor in Near Eastern Archaeology at the University of Chicago, will be presenting the program.  He has worked with numerous expeditions on five continents, and has been a member of the Kerkenes Dağ Project in Turkey for twenty years, serving as its director for the past seven years.

When: Thursday, March 7, 2013. 5 pm registration and reception, 6 pm presentation and Q&A

Where: The Oriental Institute at The University of Chicago, Breasted Hall. 1155 East 58th Street, Chicago. There is free parking available after 4pm at surface lots around campus. Lots closest to the Oriental Institute are at 59th and University and at 58th and University.

The program is free for C2ST & Oriental Institute Members, $20 for nonmembers, $5 for students

For more information and to register for the program, visit www.c2st.org