Bible and Archaeology News
A recent innovative project combining 1960s spy-satellite photography, multispectral images and digital maps of the Earth’s surface has mapped 14,000 settlements across 8,880 square miles in northeastern Syria. The study adapted software designed to identify tumors in clinical images to map anthrosols, that is, soil signatures of past settlements formed by organic waste and decayed mudbrick. The sweeping project, which identifies over eight millennia of settlements, furthers understanding of settlement systems through a focus on smaller sites, migration patterns, urban development, and relationships between settlements and water and other resources.
The study was published by Harvard archaeologist Jason Ur and MIT computer scientist Bjoern Menze, who state that “The landscapes of the Near East show both the first settlements and the longest trajectories of settlement systems … We believe it is possible to establish a nearly comprehensive map of human settlements in the fluvial plains of northern Mesopotamia and beyond, and site volume may be a key quantity to uncover long-term trends in human settlement activity from such a record.” Other scholars have responded enthusiastically about the far-reaching implications of this study, which range from presenting new data on difficult-to-excavate regions to helping answer archaeological “chicken or the egg” questions regarding early urbanization and irrigation.
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