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Massive archaeological trove found via Google Earth

  An Australian archaeologist claims to have identified nearly 2,000 potentially important sites in Saudi Arabia using Google Earth.

David Kennedy, a professor of classics and ancient history at the University of Western Australia, says with the help of satellite images from Google Earth he has pinpointed 1,977 archaeological sites, including 1,082 teardrop shaped stone tombs in the Arab country.

“I’ve never been to Saudi Arabia. It’s not the easiest country to break into,” New Scientist magazine quoted Dr Kennedy as saying.

Instead, Dr Kennedy said, he scanned about 1240 square kilometres in Saudi Arabia using Google Earth. From their birds-eye view he found 1,977 potential archaeological sites, including 1,082 “pendants” — ancient tear-drop shaped tombs made of stone.

According to Kennedy, aerial photography of Saudi Arabia is not made available to most archaeologists, and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to fly over the nation.

“But, Google Earth can outflank them,” he said.

The Australian confirmed that the sites were vestiges of an ancient life — rather than vegetation or shadow — by asking a friend in Saudi Arabia, who is not an archaeologist, to drive out to two of the sites and photograph them.

By comparing the images with structures that Kennedy has seen in Jordan, he believes the sites may be up to 9,000 years old, but ground verification is needed.

“Just from Google Earth it’s impossible to know whether we have found a Bedouin structure that was made 150 years ago, or 10,000 years ago,” he said.

Saudi Arabia has long been hostile to archaeology as hardline clerics of the kingdom believe it will focus attention on the civilisations which flourished there before the rise of Islam and could undermine the state religion.

Google Earth was launched five years ago and since the field of “armchair archaeology” has blossomed. As Spot Image started providing Google Earth with 2.5-metre resolution imagery taken from the ‘SPOT 5’ satellite, archaeologists’ work has become much easier.

In 2008, a team of international researchers had found 463 potential sites in the Registan desert in Afghanistan using satellite images.


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