Archaeologists dig Google Earth

Remember Luca Mori? Last year, he discovered remains of a Roman villa while perusing Google Maps. This proved to be an inspiration to UNC-Chapel Hill archaeologist Scott Madry, reports The News & Observer:

After reading about the Italian man’s good luck, Madry got out his laptop, fired up Google Earth and looked over lands in Burgundy near his research area. Google Earth displays that area in particularly good resolution. Immediately he spotted features that, to his trained eye, resembled outlines of Iron Age, Bronze Age, ancient Roman and medieval residences, forts, roads and monuments.

“I’ve spent 25 years in this region of France,” Madry said. “In the whole time, I’ve found a handful of archaeological sites. I found more in the first five, six, seven hours than I’ve found in years of traditional field surveys and aerial archaeology.”

One quarter of them proved to be new finds. But the best news is here:

When [Madry] reported preliminary findings at the international Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology conference this spring, other researchers took notice. Those who work in countries where aerial photographs are forbidden or restricted for security reasons are particularly curious. Madry was encouraged to teach the technique at next spring’s gathering.

(With profound apologies for the title of this post.)

5 thoughts on “Archaeologists dig Google Earth”

  1. It seems strange that it would take archeologists this long to realize the benefits of aerial imagery. It’s been in use in other fields for decades!

  2. Ben, aerial photography is not new at all in archaeology. Neither was searching the Internet new, but that is now called simply called googling. The mass-market impact Google seems to always manage is a quality of it’s own (which makes old phenomenon seem new).

  3. If I may jump to the defence of archaeologists I’ve never met, I think the phenomonenon here is the same as with the case of the discovery of meteorite craters using Google Earth:

    Before DigitalGlobe imagery was available for free on Google Earth, it was available very expensively for purchase. And so you would never just buy random images for perusing at leisure just on the off chance you see something interesting. Now all it costs is your time.

  4. The moat in the kml file is already inventoried for ages… The first book I’ve opened mention it.

    (Page 681 in “L’Atlas des châteaux forts en France”, Éditions Publitotal Strasbourg. Page 681)

  5. Hi Stefan and others. Scott Madry (the archaeologist) here. You are correct that this site is well know. That is why I picked it to be included in the article. In archaeology we have to be very careful about making the exact location of archaeological sites public. Alas, there are people who will illegally dig for artifacts, destroying the scientific integrity of the site and stealing the valuable items to be sold on the black market before they can be studied. We loose a huge amount of information on our common cultural heritage this way, all over the world. This is the reason this site was chosen. I hope that this makes sense.

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