October 17, 2019 | 3:40 PM IST

Using 50s U-2 spy plane images researchers uncover locations of archaeological evidence

Archaeologists form Harvard and University of Pennsylvania have used a unique method to know more about mysterious locations unintentionally pictured by U-2 spy planes in 50s and 60s from across Europe, the Middle East and central eastern Asia.. These photographs were taken from the Corona spy satellite used by the United States’ planes that criss-crossed the globe taking thousands of pictures of military infrastructure and also of sites that are now being considered of archaeological importance.

These aerial photographs, were operated from 1959 to 1972, show sites that might be covered or developed today.

Landscape archaeologist Emily Hammer of the University of Pennsylvania and Jason Ur of Harvard University studies how humans in the past were organised with respect to their environment and landscape realised that these aerial photos and satellite imagery are a critical tool to know about how the regions looked earlier. But it was huge work and when Emily and her team met the Chinese researcher who had dug out the U-2 images of his home town; it set them on a new path. “Seeing the amazing quality of those archival photos, we knew that it would be worth the detective work it would take to build a systematic index of them,” Ur says.

The U-2 film revealed 5,000 to 8,000-year old stone structures known as "desert kites," used to herd and perhaps hunt animals, as well as canal structures built by the Assyrians in northern Iraq. The researchers were also able to use the images to document communities of Marsh Arabs, a culture in southern Iraq that was displaced by the development of hydroelectric dams and the draining of the marshes by the government of Saddam Hussein in the last half of the 20th century.

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