A researcher at The University of Western Australia has used Google Earth imagery to identify almost 2,000 archaeological remains in Saudi Arabia that may lead to better understanding of the pre-Islamic human landscape.
Professor David Kennedy, a researcher in Classics and Ancient History, said while Saudi Arabia had a rich archaeological history, it was one of the least explored parts of the Middle East.
"The single most powerful and cost-effective tool for the discovery, location, mapping and initial analysis of archaeological sites is aerial reconnaissance. It transformed the historic human landscape in many parts of Europe," Professor Kennedy said.
"Even more than most Middle East countries, however, Saudi Arabia seldom makes aerial photographs available to archaeologists, and it is effectively impossible to do any archaeological flying, unlike Jordan which has wholeheartedly supported my flying program since 1997."
Satellite imagery - and especially the handful of high-resolution ‘windows' provided on Google Earth, offers an alternative route. In the paper he co-authored with Dr Michael Bishop, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, Professor Kennedy reveals they ‘interpreted', as a pilot study, 1,240 square kilometres of the country - one small ‘window' near Jeddah, using Google Earth and found 1,977 probable archaeological sites, including 1,082 ancient tombs.
"It is readily apparent that the use of Google Earth for the prospection and identification of sites has great potential when dealing with a huge area that is otherwise largely inaccessible on the ground," he writes in the report.
Professor Kennedy hopes funding will be extended this year to allow a thorough investigation of more ‘windows' and to demonstrate yet more forcefully the role aerial reconnaissance and remote sensing can play in archaeology and in assisting countries define and interpret their cultural heritage.