Archaeological Site Identification using ASTER and SRTM
Archaeological sites in the Near East have three characteristics: they have artifacts on their surfaces, they are mounded, and they have anthropogenic soils that can be distinguished from the natural soils around them. Surface artifacts can only be identified by walking across a site, but mounding and anthropogenic soils can be detected from space by radar and multi-spectral satellite sensors.
Since 2004, a collaborative effort has been in place to identify sites across the alluvial plains of northern Mesopotamia via semi-automated analysis of topographic data from the Shuttle Radear Topography Mission (SRTM) and multi-spectral imagery from the ASTER satellite. This research, directed by Dr. Bjoern Menze and Dr. Jason Ur, has identified over 14,000 places of ancient and modern settlement in the Upper Khabur basin of Hassake Province, northeastern Syria. This basin hosted some of the earliest urban places in the Near East, including Tell Brak in the 4th millennium BC and Hamoukar in the 3rd millennium BC. The inhabitants of these and other EBA settlements created an elaborate network of trackways throughout the basin.
Further details on the remote sensing methodology and results of this research can be found at www.habur.org
Menze, B. H., and J. A. Ur. 2007. "Classification of multispectral ASTER imagery in archaeological settlement survey in the Near East." Proc 10th ISPMSRS (Intl. Symposium on Physical Measurements and Signatures in Remote Sensing), Davos, Switzerland, 2007. [pdf]
Menze, B. H., J. A. Ur, and A. G. Sherratt. 2006. Detection of Ancient Settlement Mounds: Archaeological Survey Based on the SRTM Terrain Model. Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing 72:321-327. [pdf]
Menze, B. H., and J. A. Ur. 2011. "Detection of Early Settlements in the Central Tigris Region by Classifying Multi-Spectral Satellite Imagery: A Remote Sensing Approach to Map Early Settlements in the Near East," in Between the Cultures: The Central Tigris Region in Mesopotamia from the 3rd to the 1st Millennium BC, Heidelberger Studien zum Alten Orient 14. Edited by Peter Miglus and Simone Mühl, pp. 361-367. Heidelberg: Heidelberger Orientverlag.
Menze, Bjoern H., and Jason A. Ur. 2012. Mapping Patterns of Long-Term Settlement in Northern Mesopotamia at a Large Scale. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109:E778-E787. DOI:10.1073/pnas.1115472109. [online]
Menze, Bjoern H., and Jason A. Ur. 2013. "Mapping Anthrosols in Multi-Spectral Images using a Multi-Temporal Classification Strategy: An Approach to Settlement Survey at a Large Scale in the Upper Khabur Basin, Syria," in Mapping Archaeological Landscapes from Space. Edited by Douglas C. Comer and Michael J. Harrower, pp. 209-218. New York: Springer.
Elsewhere on the Web
The Harvard-Heidelberg Atlas of Settlement Patterns at the Upper Khabur River [web]