New Technologies Uncover an Ancient World

EarthzineEarth Observation, Earthly Updates, Original, Technology

Image of Damage to a Joplin, Mo., hospital from the May 2011 tornado. Photo by Meagan Jean Wooley.
Two satellite images of cleared temple grounds before and after

Photo From “Remote Sensing Tutorial” Produced by Goddard Space Flight Center.

What’s hidden underneath hundreds of years of jungle growth? Digging through the jungle with conventional techniques would cost a fortune in money and time.åÊA combination of remote sensing and GIS technologies, however, can help uncover ancient roads and cities; improve plans for excavations; and offer insight into the infrastructure and trade routes of extinct civilizations.

An impressive example of geo-informatics at work in the field of archaeology began in 2005 with a project designed to identify, pinpoint and study the ancient road — from Angkor in Cambodia to Phimai in Thailand — that is described in the inscription of the Pra Khan temple in Angkor, Cambodia. Images of the road were captured by Landsat, and then later by the ASTER imaging instrument aboard TERRA.



Satellite imagery of the Angkor temple

Photo From "Remote Sensing Tutorial" Produced by Goddard Space Flight Center.

Geo-informatics confirmed that an ancient road once ran from Angkor in Siem Reap area of Cambodia to Phimai in Nakorn Ratchasima, Thailand.

Parts of the ancient road, including buildings, bridges and industrial sites, were recognized by analyzing the archaeological sites found standing along a line on satellite images and aerial photographs.

The Bangkok Post describes an educational program that involves 60 children from across Thailand and 10 university students from the Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Center for Global Archaeological Research in hands-on archaeological field work.

A presentation from The Living Angkor Road Project provides detailed information about the use of aerial, satellite and GIS information technology to unearth extraordinary remains from the ancient Angkor Road.

The Powerpoint presentation includes photos of expedition members removing vines from beautifully preserved ruins and close-up images of recovered artifacts.

Photo From "Remote Sensing Tutorial" Produced by Goddard Space Flight Center.

Application of Geo-Informatics to the Study of the Royal Road from Angkor Wat to Phimai by Lertlum and Mamoru is a 2009 article in Southeast Asian Studies describing the processes and technologies used to discover, unearth and reconstruct the amazing finds at the border of Thailand and Cambodia.

The article explains:

“The informatics specialist must understand the meaning of data and the story of the past in order to analyze it appropriately. Therefore, data that can tell us about the past can be utilized only in collaborative work between informatics specialists and archaeologists.”