CORONA Satellite Photography: An Archaeological Application from the Middle East
Philip, G., Donoghue, D., Beck, A., Galiatsatos, N., Antiquity
While the value of satellite imagery to archaeology is increasingly apparent, most current applications involve its use for environmental reconstruction (e.g. Ostir et al. 1999; Marcolongo & Barisano 2000). Because of the relatively low spatial resolution of the most familiar types of imagery (e.g. 30 m for Landsat multispectral data), these are of limited applicability for the identification of individual archaeological features (Kennedy 1998: 555). The resolution issue may explain the rarity of publications which document the systematic use of satellite imagery in the context of archaeological survey in the Mediterranean and Middle East (Sarris & Jones 2000: 53; Wilkinson 2000: 228).
Landsat Thematic Mapper imagery has been used to aid the identication of settlements and `linear hollows' around sites in the Jazira of north Iraq (Wilkinson & Tucker 1995: 16-17, 25), and alongside SPOT panchromatic data (10m resolution) to identify south Mesopotamian tell-sites and ancient irrigation canals previously known from air-photographs (Verhoeven & Dales 1994: 535). However, the effectiveness of satellite imagery alone for the identification of archaeological features remains uncertain because the latter report, while referring to sites as small as 1 ha in area (Verhoeven & Dales 1994: 537-9, figures 11, 13), does not make it clear by which of these means the smaller sites were, in fact, identified.
However, the declassification of military satellite photography in recent years, in particular Russian KVR 1000 and American CORONA imagery (1) offers researchers the ability to identify linear structures such as walls, tracks, and individual features measuring no more than a few metres in diameter; see Comfort et al. (2000: 103-6, 122-3, figures 3-5) for a brief comparison of the two types of data. As Kennedy (1998) has pointed out, such imagery is of great potential value for archaeology in parts of the world for which detailed maps and good air-photographic data have traditionally been hard to obtain. The discussion below documents one such case.
Settlement and Landscape Development in the Homs Region, Syria (SHR) is a joint Syrian-British co-operative project organized by the University of Durham and the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM), Syria (FIGURE 1). It is a multidisciplinary regional project designed to take a long-term perspective on the relationship between human activity and landscape development in the upper Orontes Valley (Philip et al. in press). As such, the effective identification of hitherto undocumented loci of past human activity is of prime importance.
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The project comprises a northern and a southern study area, with a combined area of approximately 600 sq. [km.sup.2] (FIGURE 2). Traditional subsistence strategies in this area have been dominated by rain-fed cereal cultivation, supplemented by tree crops. Preliminary assessment in 1998 indicated the presence of typical near-eastern tell sites, most of which appear on the current Syrian 1:50,000 maps, but also numerous low mounds and flat sites indicated by surface artefact scatters. A marked proportion of the latter do not appear on the maps, suggesting that they are significantly underrepresented within the current information base. As there had been little previous archaeological survey work in the area west of Homs, and neither aerial-photography nor topographic mapping at scales greater than 1:50000 were then available? SHR required a means of focusing field investigation, and thus increasing the rate at which an overall impression of the quantity, nature and distribution of archaeological remains could be obtained. A potential solution appeared to lie in the recently declassified CORONA imagery.
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The CORONA project operated from 1960 to 1972 during which time a series of satellites collected photographic intelligence for the United States military. …