NAT GEO: Cold War Spy-Satellite Images Unveil Lost Cities

By  //  May 11, 2014

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10,000 archaeological sites revealed

By Dan Vergano, National Geographic

This 1961 satellite photo shows Tell Rifaat in northwest Syria; it's now completely surrounded by a modern town (Photograph Courtesy Internet Archaeology/ Jesse Casana, Jackson Cothren and Tuna Kalayci)

This 1961 satellite photo shows Tell Rifaat in northwest Syria; it’s now completely surrounded by a modern town (Photograph Courtesy Internet Archaeology/ Jesse Casana, Jackson Cothren and Tuna Kalayci)

A study of Cold War spy-satellite photos has tripled the number of known archaeological sites across the Middle East, revealing thousands of ancient cities, roads, canals and other ruins.

In recent decades archaeologists have often used declassified satellite images to spot archaeological sites in Iraq, Turkey and Syria. (Related: “‘Lost’ New England Revealed By High Tech Archaeology.”)

Jesse Casana is a specialist in the archaeology of the Middle East. (Anthropology.uark.edu image)

Jesse Casana is a specialist in the archaeology of the Middle East. (Anthropology.uark.edu image)

But the new Corona Atlas of the Middle East, unveiled Thursday at the Society for American Archaeology’s annual meeting, moves spy-satellite science to a new level. Surveying land from Egypt to Iran—and encompassing the Fertile Crescent, the renowned cradle of civilization and location of some of humanity’s earliest cities—the atlas reveals numerous sites that had been lost to history.

“Some of these sites are gigantic, and they were completely unknown,” says atlas-team archaeologist Jesse Casana of the University of Arkansas, who presented the results. “We can see all kinds of things—ancient roads and canals. The images provide a very comprehensive picture.”

The team had started with a list of roughly 4,500 known archaeological sites across the Middle East, says Casana. The spy-satellite images revealed another 10,000 that had previously been unknown.

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