AUIS Professor Uses Satellite Imagery to Discover Ancient Cities in Iraqi Kurdistan | The American University of Iraq Sulaimani

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AUIS Professor Uses Satellite Imagery to Discover Ancient Cities in Iraqi Kurdistan

Tuesday, August 11, 2015 - 14:00

Tobin Hartnell, an AUIS professor and archeologist with almost two decades experience in the field, uses the latest technology and satellite imagery to discover the ancient cities of Iraqi Kurdistan. Dr. Hartnell points out that present day Iraq - known in classical antiquity as Mesopotamia - is home to the oldest civilizations in the world, with a cultural history of over 10,000 years. Some of the earliest developments of human civilizations and technological advances started in Mesopotamia, today’s Iraq. Iraqi Kurdistan was a vital part of this civilization, yet not enough documents are recorded on its contribution to Mesopotamian civilization.

As Hartnell explains, the prosperity of Mesopotamian civilization began in the Fertile Crescent, a quarter-moon shaped land that goes from the Arabian Gulf, through south of Iraq - Euphrates and Tigris - all the way to the north (Kurdistan), across Syria and Southern Turkey and then to the Mediterranean sea. This unusually fertile soil - known as the Cradle of Civilization - is regarded as the birthplace of agriculture, urbanization, and the domestication of animals. The cultivation of wild grains and wheat was widespread, irrigation of agricultural crops was developed, writing, trade, and science were adapted and villages and cities began to rise. This then led to the emergence of early complex societies.

Iraqi Kurdistan was one of the most important places in Mesopotamia and thus the early history of the world, yet researchers don’t understand it as relatively few archaeology projects have been conducted and a large part of the region remains relatively unknown. As an archaeologist himself, he, along with a group of AUIS students and faculty members will expedite an archaeology survey and excavation to identify, map, and date all pre-modern habitation sites, as well as mapping ancient irrigation systems (karez) by using the latest technology and satellite imagery. Satellite imagery can be used as a methodological procedure for analyzing archeological sites in an accurate and quantified manner. “It has become an increasingly important tool for archaeologists,” Hartnell says, “because it can link information to exact physical locations and it can integrate information drawn from multiple sources.”

"The latest digital technologies, such as the iPad and Tablet, can bring different experiences for archaeologists," says Hartnell. Technology has changed the process of exploration so much that archaeologists no longer need notebooks, sketchpads, or pencils. Time is also important, as archeologists get one chance to record as much information as possible during excavation before it is ruined. Therefore, collecting data when the discovery is made is very essential. iPads, even smart phones for example, have become the normal way of collecting, mapping and archiving information first hand. “With iPads and other tablets, archaeologists at the site can take notes as they excavate items, look up information on relational databases, create spreadsheets, complete drawings, take photos and make audio and video recordings to insert into their notes as they work.” Hartnell says, “it makes the process much easier and less time consuming.”

Harnell divides the project into four stages; stage one will use satellite images and aerial photos to identify potential undiscovered sites; stage two involves going to the sites and collecting informations on the ground first hand; then Hartnell and his team will choose the most important sites and use specialized geophysical survey equipment, such as magnetometry, to map the remains that lie underneath the surface. These new tools can literally peer beneath the soil and create a map of the structures lying below. Finally, the team will excavate those structures that offer the most potential to reveal more about the history of Iraqi Kurdistan. As the project matures, Hartnell expects that AUIS students will quickly take a greater role, and conduct original research in archaeology as part of their university experience. This project is currently funded by USAID and private donations.