Abstract: Spying on the Ancients: Declassified Satellite Imagery in Near Eastern Archaeology


In the Middle East, urban expansion, agricultural intensification and reservoir construction over the past several decades have resulted in the widespread destruction of archaeological sites and ancient landscape features such as roads, canals and field systems.  Yet many of these features are clearly visible on Cold War-era satellite images known as CORONA, the codename for the United States’ first spy satellite program in operation from 1960-1972.  Because CORONA preserves a picture of the archaeological landscape prior to recent development, these high-resolution images constitute a truly unique resource in the archaeology of the Middle East and other regions of the world. 


This talk provides an overview of archaeological applications of CORONA imagery, including viewing sites and landscapes in 3D, and highlights the speaker’s work in the creation of a new online database of images that is now freely accessible.  The talk concludes with results of an ongoing, NASA-funded project that is documenting thousands of previously unrecorded archaeological sites across the northern Fertile Crescent and analyzing their distribution against modern and ancient climate variability


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

CORONA Archaeological Atlas Project



CORONA Information from the USGS



Paper on CORONA by speaker:

Jesse Casana & Jackson Cothren "Stereo analysis, DEM extraction and orthorectification of CORONA satellite imagery: archaeological applications from the Near East," Antiquity 82(2008): 732-749.


CORONA imagery archive (Available July 2011)


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