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Earth Science

Satellites Expose 8,000 Years of Civilization 138

ananyo writes "By combining spy-satellite photos obtained in the 1960s with modern multispectral images and digital maps of Earth's surface, researchers have created a new method for mapping large-scale patterns of human settlement. The approach was used to map some 14,000 settlement sites spanning eight millennia in 23,000 square kilometres of northeastern Syria — part of the fertile crescent of the Middle East. Traditional archaeology has focused on the big features such as cities or palaces but the new technique uncovers networks of small settlements, revealing migration patterns and sparking renewed speculation about the importance of water to city development."
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Satellites Expose 8,000 Years of Civilization

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  • Wilkinson & Ur (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @12:09PM (#39414333)

    Wilkinson & Ur, the ones behind the project, have been doing this for at least 10 years. Check out the CAMEL project on the Oriental institute of the university of Chicago

    • Human civilizations started in several areas on planet Earth

      North Eastern Syria is one of them

      The Indus River area (India) is another. Other places include the Yang Tze Jiang delta (China), Nile delta (Egypt) and even some ancient civlizations in the Americas

      • Totally agree! Someone should take a good look at evidence of the Pre-Columbian civilizations that existed in the Americas before imported diseases wiped out major parts of the population.
  • revealing migration patterns and sparking renewed speculation about the importance of water to city development

    Do we need to speculate that human settlements need water?

    This sounds like it should be fairly obvious ... you need water for people, livestock, plants ...

    • "The method has already renewed speculation about the importance of water to city development. Surprisingly, this study found that a handful of sites are unexpectedly large given that they are not located near rivers or in areas of high precipitation. “The settlement known as Tell Brak, for example, is far too large for what one would expect at such a marginal position,” says Ur. “This is where things get interesting.” I know no one does actually RTFA but here you go so you understa
    • Exactly. Human settlements need easy access to water. This is why the first cities were founded near rivers (ala the Tigris-Euphrates River Valley). This should be very obvious to all. And even if it wasn't, I think we had this covered in 3rd grade.

  • Only 8000? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @12:19PM (#39414483)

    The Barada river area has been settled for at least 11,000, Jericho for at least 11,000, Byblos for at least 9,000.

  • Humans already caused climate change once. Specifically the huns with Genghis Khan burning down forests all over Asia and Europe. He not only left a trace in our DNA by having many "wifes" making a fair share of Eurasians descendents of him, he also had a measurable impact on the climate on that time.

    Wicked! Some [current.com] src [mnn.com] for claims [wikipedia.org].

    • Re:Did you know (Score:4, Informative)

      by Psion ( 2244 ) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @01:07PM (#39415243)
      Julia Pongratz is the only citation in your listed sources for Gengis Khan's impact on climate. She arrived at this conclusion not through examination of empirical data, but through computer modeling of Khan's actions. It's an interesting hypothesis, but hardly one that can be stated as a certainty.
  • Well I'll be... It sounds like the biblical fundamentalists were correct about the ago of the earth, after all.
    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by AlphaLop ( 930759 )

      Please don't give them more blocks to prop up their religion, we need religion like we need a hole in the head.

      Religion has killed more people than drugs so I keep waiting for the U.S. to declare war on it. (I can only hope.)

    • *Laugh* Seriously but no, it's not an arbitary few thousand years. They're insisting that it's less than 6,000 years because of a literal reading of genealogies leading back to Adam and Eve while being illiterate in ancient Hebrew culture and numerology, and there's an obsession in christian circles with a 7,000 year cycle with a sabbath millenium at the end.

      They're just trying really hard to live in another world and damn the physics.

      • Can you say "whoooosh"?
      • by PRMan ( 959735 )

        7000-year cycle? As a Christian that thinks there is more to YEC than most people (who haven't read any of it) believe, I've never once in all my travels heard of a 7000-year-cycle.

        In any event, the 8000 sounds a lot closer to the 6000 year YEC position than the evolution perspective (100,000? or is it 2,000,000 now?, it changes so frequently and everyone disagrees so much I can't keep track).

        • the evolution perspective (100,000? or is it 2,000,000 now?, it changes so frequently and everyone disagrees so much I can't keep track).

          They disagree because they disagree on how to define "the first human".

          Two million years ago sounds about right for the "divergence of the Homo genus from the Australopithecus genus" definition. 100,000 years is about right for the "final divergence of Homo Sapiens and Homo Neanderthalensis" and "anatomically modern human" definitions. There's also the "minimum cranial v

        • 7000-year cycle? As a Christian that thinks there is more to YEC than most people (who haven't read any of it) believe, I've never once in all my travels heard of a 7000-year-cycle.

          Some millenialists think history mimics the week, with one day = 1000 years. The seventh day is the end-times, when Satan is given dominion over the earth for 1000 years.

          Conveniently, when coupled with Bishop Ussher's chronology, that means that the end times are going to start any day now.

          But if you're going to go all numerological on your religion, why not go with a clever observation about the zodiacal ages: We've spent the last 2000 years in the Age of Pices - and the fish is a symbol of the Christian

  • Its going to be 8000 years before we can send someone to investigate given the current political climate :( /Cynicism
  • by Eil ( 82413 ) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @12:33PM (#39414735) Homepage Journal

    I once used the satellite view of Google Maps to look for old train tracks that have been torn up and gone for decades. It's actually pretty interesting. If you go out and visit spots where the tracks used to be, you can't see anything out of the ordinary. But a satellite shot clearly shows the "scars" of where the tracks used to be. Where they cut through forests, the trees are a little shorter. The soil in farm fields is colored differently. Roads bend to intersect the track at a right angle, things like that.

    Here's a good example [g.co] in Washtenaw county. You can see the "ghost tracks" going southwest/northeast. If you follow them northeast, you'll see that a new subdivision was built on an area of land that they used to cut through. Curiously, the developers built no houses where the tracks were. Instead, they added footpaths, gave some houses larger backyards, and left "gaps" where houses could have been built. (I'd love to know why this was done. Any developers in the audience?)

    You can follow the tracks southwest as well, but eventually you get to a region where the images were taken with a different satellite at a different time of year and the loss of contrast makes the tracks impossible to follow any further.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      There were probably ownership issues with the former track land.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Property lines still intact.

    • I do the same thing follow old rail line.

      Been using it to keep track of the last remaining Wooden Trestles a long a 100+ year old line here in the Western part of NC.

      https://picasaweb.google.com/104509350788295110986/TripleCRailRoad [google.com]

    • by Lordfly ( 590616 )

      Utility lines perhaps, or the railroad still technically owns the right of way.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's a buried pipeline, not a "ghost track".

    • by wiredog ( 43288 )

      Many times the old roadbed is perfect for trails, such as the W&OD trail or the Capital Crescent Trail. Others get repurposed as roads, like Old Dominion Drive.

    • by Darth_brooks ( 180756 ) <clipper377@noSpaM.gmail.com> on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @01:24PM (#39415481) Homepage

      That particular run goes reasonably close to my house. The totally apocryphal explanation for those "tracks" was that Norfolk Southern, or whatever the iteration of the railroad was named at the time the development was planned, bought the rights to that land with the plan of bridging Ford Lake (why they would I have no idea. That'd be an expensive bridge at that point) and connecting to the auto plants (at the time GM Hydramatic and GM Willow Run Assembly), the Airport (Willow Run, with the idea of being a sort of intermodal hub) and the NS line just north of the airport that runs East - West.

      In the end they backed out on cost and opted to serve both plants from the East - West line, even though it necessitated a longer trip to connect. (Incidentally, Amtrak will eventually own that stretch of line all the way from K-zoo to Detroit, adding to their longest continuous track track section outside of the Northeast corridor.) That ghost trail was also part of the line that crossed US-23. Not under, crossed. A two lane divided highway that at one point had a live rail crossing.

      Interestingly, the http://www.historicaerials.com/ [historicaerials.com] images don't show the 'ghost' trail until 1963. The 1955 images don't show anything. NS also owns property much closer to bridge road (take Textile west from Bridge, look to the right. You'll see a large section of land with NS branded 'no trespassing' signs).

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It looks like a gas line to me. Following the tracks (southwest?) I found a utility building, pipes, and valves right over the footprint of the line


    • Hmm, Path of the Beam [wikipedia.org]?
    • by dwillden ( 521345 ) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @03:10PM (#39417095) Homepage
      Are you sure it's a former trackline? Looking at how clear-cut the trail is through some of the wooded areas, makes me wonder if there isn't an oil or natural gas pipeline of some type running there. Thus the reason for not building over it, and keeping the land clear of trees. I also find it odd that there is no elevated trackway present anywhere along the several miles I looked at. Also indicative of a pipeline rather than a railroad.

      In fact go north to the subdivision where they haven't built over the trail. And use street view on E Bemis Road right where the trail crosses into the subdivision. If you look to the north you can plainly see the Pipeline warning poles, placed next to the road on to either side of the trail. There are also such poles on the south side of the road but they don't stand out quite as clearly. It's a pipeline not a railroad track.
      • Could be both. Railroad tracks are notoriously convenient for running infrastructure under. No need to dig up a street or risk somebody building over it.

        A lot of fiber is run under tracks.

        • Could be, but as I noted there is no track hill. anywhere along the line, it's all flush with the surrounding terrain which is not indicative of there having been a rail line there. The farmers would have leveled it, as would the construction crews for the housing areas but in the wooded areas as well?, And they lowered all the crossings to be flush as well? I grew up near an abandoned line, the tracks are long gone, but the raised rail bed is still there.
      • by Eil ( 82413 )

        Ah! That makes far more sense than my ghost train tracks story. I guess I was thrown off by how "wide" the scar appears to be in some places.

  • Beer (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    You can't make beer without water.

  • Who knows... within a few thousand years we might have civilization here in North America too.

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