Utilizing CORONA to study material culture

The research focus of ANEE’s Team 3 is on material culture. The plan has been to conduct an archaeological survey in Northern Jordan.

With the global pandemic closing borders and putting all traveling on hold, the survey has been postponed since 2020. In the meantime, the team has done research on material that is available. So, if coronavirus was preventing the team from traveling to Jordan, why not use CORONA to overcome the problem?

CORONA is the codename for the United States’ first photographic spy satellite mission. Between 1960-1972 the satellites took more than 800 000 high-resolution images. In 1995 the dataset was declassified by President Clinton, and the images were made publicly available through the US Geological Survey. For archaeologists doing research in the Middle East, CORONA data can be a useful tool. The images, mostly taken in the 60’s, can reveal ancient sites that today would be covered or destroyed by urban expansion.

Team 3’s survey area is large, and the more observers can study it, the better. This thought was put into practice in the latest Forum meeting, where all participating ANEE members had the opportunity to locate archaeological sites. Each participant was given a set of images from their designated area, and possible sites were then highlighted with a paint tool.

Recognizing archaeological sites from satellite images can be challenging even for trained archaeologists. Nevertheless, Team 3’s “crowdsourcing exercise” provided a number of potential sites that can be further inspected and verified from the images. Later, targeted fieldwork can be conducted on these “hotspots” during the archaeological survey.

As the travel restrictions are being lifted and borders opening, the team is finally able to travel to Jordan at the end of November. Even though this is only a short trip, the team hopes to visit some of the known sites in the survey area. This will allow them to get to know the terrain and to make plans for the full survey seasons next year.