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Using Google Earth to Find Ancient Cities 127

An anonymous reader writes "A story in the online site of the Aussie science mag Cosmos discusses how archaeologists are using sophisticated satellite images to find previously undiscovered cities. What 's really cool is how some are simply using Google Earth — and discovering all sorts of previously unknown sites!"
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Using Google Earth to Find Ancient Cities

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    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Why was NASA employing an archaeologist?
      • Easy. They want to find where the little green men on Mars used to have their cities!

        Seriously, though, if anyone's thinking about pointing a satellite back at Earth, why not have an archaeologist looking at the feeds for just the purpose TFS (can't read the article do to /.edness) suggests?
        • In your reply to a comment that links to a cached copy of the article you complain it's slashdotted?
          That's odd.
          • The mirror is slashdotted, the original article is working fine.

            Makes you wonder why they bothered mirrororing it...
          • I didn't reply to any comment with any link in it.

            I replied to a reply to a comment that had a link. That server has been at times slashdotted too.

            So sorry for your sake that I don't click on every link in every post between the submission and the post to which I'm replying, but some of us have things to do besides look at goatse and myminicity redirects.
      • by nebaz ( 453974 )
        They need someone to translate ancient Egyptian.
    • I'm trying to find my treasure girl using google maps, but either:
        - the area isn't covered by high definition
        - even the 'high res' isn't suffisent to wacht ppl's face
        - not enough updates, no "earth movie"
        - still didn't found a infrared option to see what ppl are doing at night through the roofs!

  • Work underwater? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I RTFA and as a scuba-diver I'm curious if this technology can be used to detect underwater structures?
    • Re:Work underwater? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by AndGodSed ( 968378 ) on Monday January 07, 2008 @02:18PM (#21944242) Homepage Journal
      An infra red imaging device, or certain wavelengths of radar should work nicely. And I am sure there are satellites up there that are capable of that.

      Imagine the submarine hunting possibilities! No way the military has not at least investigated the technology...
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Water absorbs electromagnetic waves very quickly, making radar useless for detecting underwater objects. Accoustic waves are propagated very well though, which makes sonar an excellent choice for underwater surveying. The only thing satellites can image is the ocean surface. If the objects of interest are in very shallow water and visible from the surface then satellite images may be useful. Anything deeper than a few feet won't be detectable without side scan sonar.

        • They used radar to map almost the entire earth. Mission Site []

          "SRTM acquired enough data during its ten days of operation to obtain the most complete near-global high-resolution database of the Earth's topography."

          The data is very accurate and they released a version of the data to the public. Apparently, there is a much more accurate classified version of the data. I'm sure they could find all sorts of things with this database.

          Note, they
          • by phliar ( 87116 )

            Note, they also used the ground-zero/oceans to calibrate the device on every orbit of the earth which means it doesn't penetrate into the water.

            It's true that radar doesn't penetrate the ocean's surface. However, the surface of the ocean is not spherical (or even oblate eillipsoidal) -- the water surface mirrors the topography of the ocean floor. (Strictly speaking, the water just follows the equipotential surface of earth's gravity field, which is influenced by the rocks in the seafloor.)

            This was first

        • Re:Work underwater? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by baldass_newbie ( 136609 ) on Monday January 07, 2008 @03:43PM (#21945462) Homepage Journal
          You mean something like the SOSUS network [].
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by rmessenger ( 1078643 )
        "An infra red imaging device, or certain wavelengths of radar should work nicely." First, water is opaque to IR, you should know that! Second, radar is absorbed over relatively short distances in water, making it nearly impossible to resolve very far under water.
        • Yes water is opaque to IR, but in shallow water, an object that deflects water flow would show up since the water currents will diflect. The temperature diffs in the water itself should show this. This is how they traced the flow of the Aghulhas current.
          • I suppose you could locate objects in shallow water, but you wouldn't be able to distinguish the lost city of Atlantis from a big pile of rocks using this method. It's great for tracing water currents, but questionable at best for locating underwater structures of interest and at any appreciable depth. Note: I'm just arguing for the sake of arguing.
            • Ah you got me. I shoulda known IR wouldn't work underwater and I was gallantly trying to defend a weak argument by fudging...
    • Re:Work underwater? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by NorthWestFLNative ( 973147 ) on Monday January 07, 2008 @02:40PM (#21944524) Journal
      Ultraviolet photographs might work, but since water absorbs longer wavelengths infrared photographs may not show anything. On a side note, that's why everything underwater looks blue-green without a supplemental light, the red wavelength has been mostly absorbed.
      • I think almost every substance absorbs UV strongly, since it's at the right frequency to excite atomic and molecular electrons. From the graph here [], about halfway down, it would seem water absorbs in the near UV about as well as it absorbs red light (and significantly better than it does in the blue visible region). In the far UV water seems to absorbs as well as it does in the infrared.
    • I looked at some wreck sites I know and could not see any hints of the wrecks.

      Besides, after a few hundred years wrecks don't look like anything from close up unless you really know what you're looking for.

    • by b00le ( 714402 )
      Current very-high-resolution satellites can see a metre or two into clear water - see these [] examples. But the Panchromatic band on these sensors extends down into the near-infrared so pan-sharpening [], which combines the multispectral image (2.4 metres/pixel for QuickBird) with the much sharper Pan data (60cm/pixel) tends to make water go black.

      The next generation WorldView-2 satellite from DigitalGlobe [] will have a 'Coastal' band (450 - 500 nm) in addition to the Blue, Green, Red and Nea

  • First time... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by oblonski ( 1077335 ) <[mario] [at] []> on Monday January 07, 2008 @02:21PM (#21944274) Homepage Journal
    ...I came across Google Earth was in September 2005, and I remember what led me to it was a story about Italian person finding old Roman ruins while discovering some 'formations' near his home village
    • Archaeologists have been using aerial photos almost forever. Google just makes these more accessable. Even flying over an area in a microlight helps show up details of old structures etc as variances in the way vegetation grows etc.
    • by emilper ( 826945 )
      Well, in Southern and South-Eastern Europe you just have to pick a random spot, and if it was not disturbed by a river, you will almost certainly find some ancient (medieval, ancient proper, iron age etc.) settlement within a 500 m. radius of the chosen place. The only reason the whole area is not covered with tourist-trap ruins is that the people of old had the common sense of recycling old structures to build new ones. The Coliseum still stands only because in Rome there was such a great store of old ruin
  • by circletimessquare ( 444983 ) <circletimessquare&gmail,com> on Monday January 07, 2008 @02:22PM (#21944286) Homepage Journal []

    they found a biblical city called ubar in oman this way, by tracing the minute traces left by ancient caravan roads only visible by certain radars on a huge scale

    no lost ark, but apparently this is where all that weird stuff called frankincense came from

    • satellite imagery (Score:5, Insightful)

      by l2718 ( 514756 ) on Monday January 07, 2008 @02:37PM (#21944484)
      You are right to point at the older story -- we need to make a distinction. The scientific point here is the use of satellite imagery to locate old cities. To social point is that Google Earth has made satellite images infinitely more accessible -- you don't need to be part of NASA anymore.
      • To social point is that Google Earth has made satellite images infinitely more accessible -- you don't need to be part of NASA anymore.

        You haven't needed to be part of NASA - ever.

        Seriously - aerial and satellite photography has been openly available for decades. All you had to have was either a) cash to have them taken, or b) the patience to search the available archives. A model railroad club I was a member of was using 1 meter imagery from the state archives as far back as 1992.


      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        What would be nice is if NASA were to let Google Earth overlay all this non-visible wavelength data right in Google Earth. I think that other uses can be probably be found for this technique, and other interesting insights might be gained, if more people could view Google Earth at infrared and other wavelengths. Archaeology for the masses!
        • I'd like some more very-high-resolution bits spliced in, more res in general. I guess the extra data costs extra cash. I know I can't afford any shots of Usk, B.C. on my pay.
    • by Mingco ( 883841 )
      As we all know, frankincense is crucial to the production of Frankenberries. Count Chocula will be most pleased.

  • by Zenaku ( 821866 ) on Monday January 07, 2008 @02:25PM (#21944334)
    Do these cities have StreetView yet? It could provide a vivid picture of what life was like in ancient times. :)
  • by Quiet_Desperation ( 858215 ) on Monday January 07, 2008 @02:28PM (#21944372)

    In just five minutes I found this weird ancient obelisk!

    Obelisk []

    Wow! A previously unknown sphinx!

    Sphinx []

    Some sort of ancient roadway system. It's a bit hard to make out.

    Ancient trade routes []

    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      Wow, anyone else feel like they're looking at an Escher drawing when looking at the Empire State Building? You got the Empire State leaning to the left, but the big building just south of its tip leans heavily to the right. I feel like I'm gonna fall over...
      • You got the Empire State leaning to the left, but the big building just south of its tip leans heavily to the right. I feel like I'm gonna fall over...

        Image stitching
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          Image stitching

          Really? How come I can't see the thread marks? Oh, I bet they're using something like fishing line...
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by megabunny ( 710331 )
      It is actually easy to find candidates, but how about travelling to mexixo?,-88.630174&spn=0.003541,0.005021&t=h&z=18&om=1 [] This could be anything, but an ancient structure is one of the possiblilities. MB
    • ok.. there is something weird about those satellite images, and I don't understand why. Some building s you see the North and East sides of the building, some you see the North and West sides. Then some you see the south side of the building, yet (according to the maps view) these walls are parallel to each other.

      I considered the possibility of two photos but I see no splice and the shadows are the same. I doubt there is anything wrong with the images, there just isn't something clicking on my brain...
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by icebike ( 68054 )
        The weirdest thing about those satellite images is that they are NOT satellite images.

        Many people are under the mistaken impression that Google Earth ONLY uses satellite images. That's simply untrue, and anyone who reads the GE FAQ would know this.

        Those photos are aerial mapping photos produced by an airplane flying "tracks" across the city. They are then stitched together to form a mosaic, and since this was done with public funds the images are available to google earth for a modest fee. Seattle has si
        • well that explains it, so I'm really not crazy, they just do a good stitch job :) and I would not have known about this since I do not use GE, just google maps.
    • by sootman ( 158191 )
      Thanks for the laugh. Slowly zooming out to see where the roads were, I zoomed out further and noticed this giant white splotch in NW Utah. What's that? Is that whole area just perpetually snowy?,-111.192627&spn=7.497841,10.964355&z=7 []
      • The Bonneville Salt Flats. []
      • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *
        As someone mentioned -- the Salt Flats. In other odd structures, if you scroll NW to Idaho, that big black blotch is the famous lava outcropping.

        One day I was wandering thru some forested area not "far" north of there, and came across images of a forest fire in progress!

        Dunno about now (being too lazy to look) but an oddity last year re Devil's Lake, North Dakota: If you were zoomed well out, you got summer images -- green fields and open water. But if you zoomed in, you got winter -- all snow covered, with
    • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *
      Contrary to myth, they didn't use stone tablets and chisels back then -- cuz if you look a bit to the left of that Sphinx, you'll see an LED-sign ad for Motorola's booth at NetWorld+Interop.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2008 @02:31PM (#21944410)
    "Yes." She pointed to the screen. "But don't be deceived by what you see here. This satellite image covers fifty thousand square kilometers of jungle. Most of it has never been seen by white men. It's hard terrain, with visibility limited to a few meters in any direction. An expedition could search that area for years, passing within two hundred meters of the city and failing to see it. So I needed to narrow the search sector. I decided to see if I could find the city."

    Find the city? From satellite pictures?

    "Yes," she said. "And I found it."
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by xenocide2 ( 231786 )
      Yes, but the difference is that we're not limiting the people viewing the pictures to Jane Goodall. That's the social point here -- getting the data is tricky, but sifting through it is simple enough. That's why many scientists guard their data carefully before publication I suppose; they don't want someone else beating them to the discoveries.
    • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Monday January 07, 2008 @04:28PM (#21946124) Homepage
      The first usage of aerial photography for archaeological purposes dates back into the 1920's. Using aerial photography and radar for searching out sites of archaeological interest was covered in National Geographic back in the 1950's. I remember seeing in my dad's photogrammetry magazines from the 1960's, aerial photography services specifically advertising their availability for archaeological surveys. (As well as multiple articles in the magazines on that very topic.) A book of NASA terrestrial photography I own from the 1970's dedicates an entire chapter to the usage of satellite photography for archaeological purposes.
      At best, Crichton independently reinvented a technique already well known in professional circles.
  • by pmike_bauer ( 763028 ) on Monday January 07, 2008 @02:40PM (#21944534) earth now finds your keys
  • The reason why these archaeologists are having so much success is because Google's satellite imagery is ancient!

    I mean, rather than seeing some roads near my house all I see is dirt and trees!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2008 @02:47PM (#21944652)
    "Indiana Jones and the Blue Screen of Death"
  • by AngryNick ( 891056 ) on Monday January 07, 2008 @02:56PM (#21944792) Homepage Journal
    First impact craters ( How to Discover Impact Craters with Google Earth []), now ancient cities!?! I'm still looking for my car.
  • Kansas (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Have them check the results for Kansas. This'll reveal whether there ever WAS civilization there and possibly when it disappeared...
  • Next on Google Eearth...
    Find Osama!

    Taking a page from OSS philosophy, "with many eyeballs, all hiding places become shallow"
    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

      Find Osama!

      It won't help. The last time this happened we got:

      Argument for some time about who would go in, catch him and get the credit.

      The CIA winning the argument but not having the resources for a large military option they subcontracted to some locals they had met recently.

      The US military forces on the ground shipped away to wait for the attack on Iraq.

      The CIA finally going in with a lot of press on standby ready to declare a victory to find that Osama had walked away after the US military forces had

  • by CuriousCuller ( 1198941 ) on Monday January 07, 2008 @05:22PM (#21946782)
    any technology such as this is invaluable to us archaeologists. You see, these days archaeologists are loath to put their WHS trowels in the ground for a simple reason: archaeology is the unrepeatable experiment. Unlike most sciences, you cannot go back and recover from any mistakes. Once it's up, it's up and that's the end of that. Untold valuable sites have been irreparable screwed up by previous clumsy excavations and thousands of artefacts have horribly degraded due to us not really understanding the conversation process. It's really only a miracle of fate that Howard Carter found Tutankhamen's tomb when he did - a few years before and most what of he discovered would be remembered to us only by grainy sepia photographs. Still, even with the reasonably modern techniques and equipment at his disposable a lot of damage was done and like a forensic site, much of the evidence has been contaminated.

    Archaeological investigations these days tend to be for emergency purposes. Or in layman's terms, someone's building a motorway through an iron age hill (as in Ireland), or someone found a Roman bathhouse while pile driving the foundations for an office block. To be fair the latter shouldn't happy as archaeologists are normally called in to do a preliminary investigation before construction, at least in archaeological sensitive places such as London, Paris etc. It's pretty hard to get money for pure archaeology now. Mostly because governments would rather fund other, more pragmatic research fields and secondly because modern archaeologists are a squeamish bunch - if something's sat in situ for two millennia without any problems it can afford to wait a decade or more until adequate funding and a conservation strategy are in place. Nowadays most of the glory is going to the geophys guys and not Indiana Jones.

    For this reason any methods which can provide any insight, no matter how small, are gaining ground. Really, despite what most people think of archaeologists we're not treasure hunters. We're trying to piece together the past piece by piece. What we're looking for is not lost cities, but rather more mundane artefacts like field boundaries, foundations, lost turnpike roads between settlements etc. Google Earth maybe good at this sort of thing, maybe even for smaller structures too and maybe very handy when trying to piece together larger landscapes. You're probably not going to find Eldorado though.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nicklott ( 533496 )
      Enjoy it while it lasts, as soon as Google/TeleAtlas get wind of it they will be round for their commercial royalties. Don't laugh; I know of at least one government department that has had to block access to G Maps to prove to them that no one on site is using it and so avoid the royalty fee.
  • There's no way Google Earth can be used to see ancient footpaths, cemteries, buildings and cities.

    When I try to view my house in Google Earth I can't even see the village that the house is in.

    The only recognizable features are large blurry blobs and some of the small blobs.

    If ancient people lived in blurry blobs, then Google Earth may be of some help.
    • by Thuktun ( 221615 )

      There's no way Google Earth can be used to see ancient footpaths, cemteries, buildings and cities. When I try to view my house in Google Earth I can't even see the village that the house is in. The only recognizable features are large blurry blobs and some of the small blobs. If ancient people lived in blurry blobs, then Google Earth may be of some help.

      Have you bothered to look elsewhere? The world is bigger than your village.

      There are many areas that have really great resolution. Other areas, not so much. It's a large planet and previous surveys have prioritized their images.

    • ...then I clean my glasses.
  • Funny that this should come up now. I was just last night reading H.P. Lovecraft's "Shadow Out of Time", in which an expedition uncovers evidence of an ancient city in remote Western Australia. It gives the coordinates as 22 3' 14" South and 125 0' 39" East.

    I dismissed the idea of checking the area out in Google Earth as being silly - but now I am strangely compelled.

    I can't use Google Earth at work, so could someone satisfy my curiousity and tell me what they see there?

    Much appreciated.

  • Indiana Jones and the Googlers of the Lost Ark

"If you lived today as if it were your last, you'd buy up a box of rockets and fire them all off, wouldn't you?" -- Garrison Keillor