Monday, April 02, 2012

USING COMPUTERS TO SCOUR SATELLITE IMAGE THOUSANDS OF POSSIBLE EARLY HUMAN SETTLEMENTS HAVE BEEN DISCOVERED


Thousands of possible early human settlements have been discovered by archaeologists using computers to scour satellite images. Jason Ur said he had found about 9,000 potential new sites in north-eastern Syria. Computers scanned the images for soil discoloration and mounds caused when mud-brick settlements collapsed. Dr Ur said surveying the same area on the ground would have taken him a lifetime.

Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researcher told BBC News: "With these computer science techniques, however, we can immediately come up with an enormous map which is methodologically very interesting, but which also shows the staggering amount of human occupation over the last 7,000 or 8,000 years. "What's more, anyone who comes back to this area for any future survey would already know where to go. "There's no need to do this sort of initial reconnaissance to find sites. This allows you to do targeted work, so it maximizes the time we have on the ground."

In the past, Dr Ur used declassified spy satellite photographs and the human eye to try to identify potential sites. But over the last three years, he has worked with computer expert Bjoern Menze, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to create a software application able to classify a huge range of terrain. He said this had removed subjectivity and allowed them to look at a much larger area. In all, about 9,000 possible settlements were identified across 23,000 sq km.

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