Over the past 25 years, CORONA satellite imagery has become an integral part of archaeological research, especially for arid, sparsely vegetated regions such as the Middle East. Since 2020, a new archive of satellite imagery gathered by the US spy satellite programme that succeeded CORONA—HEXAGON—has become widely available for download via the United States Geological Survey. This photographic archive has enormous potential for archaeological research. Here, the authors seek to lower the barriers to accessing and using this imagery by detailing the background, technical specifications and history of the HEXAGON archive. Four case studies illustrate the benefits and limitations of HEXAGON imagery for archaeological and historical research in the Middle East and beyond.
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CORONA satellite photography taken in the 1960s continues to reveal buried ancient landscapes and sequences of landscapes – some of them no longer visible. In this new survey of the Mughan Steppe in north-western Iran, the authors map a ‘signature landscape’ belonging to Sasanian irrigators, and discover that the traces of the nomadic peoples that succeeded them also show up on CORONA – in the form of scoops for animal shelters. The remains of these highly significant pastoralists have been virtually obliterated since the CORONA surveys by a new wave of irrigation farming. Such archaeological evaluation of a landscape has grave implications for the heritage of grassland nomads and the appreciation of their impact on history.