Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Do you know about "CAMEL"?

The Oriental Institute's CAMEL (Center for Ancient Middle Eastern Landscapes) can survey ancient sites without digging in the dirt and distrubing the ground. Remember, that as archaeologists dig, they destroy. This project aims to survey ancient sites and disturb them as little as possible.

But what it can do is: "organize maps, aerial photography, satellite images and other data into one place allowing archaeologists to see how ancient trade routes developed and to prepare simulations of how people may have interacted, given the limitations of their space, the availability of resource and the organizations of their cities," so says the press release from the Oriental Instiute.

Scott Branting, Director of the project, oversees CAMEL from a computer lab at the Oriental Institute.

Turning on a computer Branting says: "The Near Eastern area is defined for the purposes of our collections as an enormous box stretching from Greece on the west to Afghanistan on the east, from the middle of the Black Sea on the north to the horn of Africa on the south."

And up pops an aerial surveillance photgraph taken for defense purposes during the Cold War. The image shows mounds on the surface of the steppe regions of modern Iraq, sites that are among the hundreds underexpored that are potentially valuable for future excavation when archaeologists can safely return. Many of these photos are from the 1950s and 1960s and even earlier so the terrain is different but the ancient material is still the same, buried deep within the earth.

Kerkenes Dag in central Turkey is a city, about 30 miles from Hattusa, capital of the ancient Hittite Empire. It was built sometime after the fall of the Hittites in about 1180 BC. Geoffrey Summers of the MiddleEast Technical University in Ankara directed a new dig at the site beginning in 1993. Branting joined the project in 1995 as a graduate student. From the beginning of the latest work at Kerkenes Dag, archaeologists have used nondestructive techniques to learn more. Global Positioning Systenm technlogy has also helped produce a virtual reconstruction of the entire city.

Using non-invasive techniques the team located the gateway of the palace complex and they are able to date the site. Scholars think it may be the city Herodotus called Pteria, conquered by the Lydian King Croesus in a failed effort to block the advance of the Persian Empire.

"If the equation of Kerkenes Dag with Pteria holds true, then we can even more precisely date the massive destruction of the city to around 547 BC and begin to understand something of its international importance," according to Branting.

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