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A Remote Sensing Approach for Mapping the Development of Ancient Water Management in the Near East

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journal contribution
posted on 15.08.2019, 08:54 by Louise Rayne, Daniel Donoghue
We present a novel approach that uses remote sensing to record and reconstruct traces of ancient water management throughout the whole region of Northern Mesopotamia, an area where modern agriculture and warfare has had a severe impact on the survival of archaeological remains and their visibility in modern satellite imagery. However, analysis and interpretation of declassified stereoscopic spy satellite data from the 1960s and early 1970s revealed traces of ancient water management systems. We processed satellite imagery to facilitate image interpretation and used photogrammetry to reconstruct hydraulic pathways. Our results represent the first comprehensive map of water management features across the entirety of Northern Mesopotamia for the period ca. 1200 BC to AD 1500. In particular, this shows that irrigation was widespread throughout the region in the Early Islamic period, including within the zone traditionally regarded as “rain-fed”. However, we found that a high proportion of the ancient canal systems had been damaged or destroyed by 20th century changes to agricultural practices and land use. Given this, there is an urgent need to record these rapidly vanishing water management systems that were an integral part of the ancient agricultural landscape and that underpinned powerful states.


This PhD research was funded by the Faculty of Social Sciences and Health, Durham University



Remote Sensing, 2018, 10 (12), pp. 1-1 (21)

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The following are available online at s1: CORONA DEM triangulation reports; Landsat comparisons. SRTM, CORONA and Landsat data available from the U.S. Geological Survey.