Satellite Finds pre-Islamic Civilization Buried in Libyan Desert
11/10/2011 by: Darleen Hartley
Archaeologists are looking forward to exploring parts of Libya that were not readily accessible during Kaddafi’s regime. The hostile regime combined with the harsh southwestern desert in the Fazzan region of Libya concealed an area inhabited around AD 1-500.
The ancient, pre-Islamic Garamantes apparently were more advanced and more significant in the history of what is now Libya than earlier thought, although Herodotus wrote of them as a great, albeit slave-oriented, nation. A team from the University of Leicester in the UK discovered a remarkably preserved area containing more than 100 fortified farms, villages, and towns. The largest town, Garama in what is now called the Jarma Oasis had over 4,000 inhabitants.
After locating the buildings via satellite and air photographs, the team’s ground explorations turned up cemeteries, as well as fields watered by a sophisticated subterranean water-extraction system. The project leader is David Mattingly FBA, Professor of Roman Archaeology at the University of Leicester. Dr Martin Sterry, who had done much of the image analysis and site interpretation says: "This inhospitable landscape with zero rainfall was once very densely built up and cultivated." The findings contradict a general opinion that the Garamantes were barbaric nomads, not agrarian city dwellers during the days of the Roman Empire.
Mattingly said: "It was an organized state with towns and villages, a written language and state of the art technologies. The Garamantes were pioneers in establishing oases and opening up Trans-Saharan trade."
Chichen Itza, pre-Columbian archaeological site, Yucatan, Mexico taken by GeoEye
The images, commissioned by the oil industry, were obtained via high-resolution satellite imagery, from GeoEye. Although the company is more focused on commercial exploits than archaeology, it has photographed several ancient sites in addition to the current find in Libya. They use two color Earth-imaging satellites: GeoEye-1 with an orbital altitude of 681 km and 450-920nm spectral range and IKONOS with a spatial resolution of 0.82 meter x 3.2 meters, as well as three airplanes with advanced high-resolution imagery collection capabilities.
The Libyan research is backed by several organizations. The European Research Council (ERC), a pan-European organization for frontier research, attempts to attract top researchers from around the world. The Leverhulme Trust provides research funding. The Society for Libyan Studies is sponsored by the British Academy which links British and Libyan scholars in the natural sciences, linguistics, archaeology, history and geography.
Leverhulme Trust, British Academy, Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico, , Sahara desert, oil industry, Garamantes, Martin Sterry, David Mattingly, University of Leicester, GeoEye-1, IKONOS, satellite imagery, Fazzan, Libya, archaeology, Jarma Oasis
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