This other worldly landscape is Al-Ula county. Covering nearly 9,000 square miles( 22,500 sq km ), in north-west Saudi Arabia, it is about the same sizing as New Jersey .
Kennedy is an example of an international squad carrying out what they say is the Kingdom’s largest ever archaeological survey, which began in March. Unlike the various regional neighbors Egypt and Jordan, Saudi Arabia is not well-known for ancient history. But that might be about to change.
Team members say they have already identified thousands of archaeological websites, found evidence is recommended that people have lived in the area for much longer than was previously thought, and encountered bizarre structures, the role and meaning of which are shrouded in whodunit .
Down in the valley
While Kennedy results the survey results of Al-Ula’s “hinterland” another group within Foote’s team is focused on the project’s “core area.” Embracing 1,100 square miles( 2,890 sq km ), it encompasses a valley — also called Al-Ula — hemmed in by sheer-sided mountains that rise 1,000 feet on both sides.
Once rich in sea, theAl-Ula valley has channeled people, and trade, along its wide, flat flooring for thousands of years.
Early villages prospered thanks to passing traders transporting frankincense, myrrh and precious stones. Foote said today the first major city here, Dedan — now called Al-Khuraybah — was established during the first millennium BC.
“The route from the south to Mesopotamia, Egypt and beyond ran up the western side of the Arabian Peninsula, ” mentions Foote. Well-trodden routes related oasis to oasis, like a dot-to-dot pull. “The oases rendered sea for people and animals, ” tells Foote, adding that camels — which can live with only occasional access to sea — enabled long-distance trading .
The trade route eventually diminished after seacraft that could safely navigate the treacherous Red Sea were developed.
The valley remained relatively quiet for several hundred years and then boomed again, when Islam was established in the Middle East. “Mecca and Medina became the heartlands of the belief and a destination for pilgrims, ” tells Foote. “Al-Ula lay on the road south from Syria.”
In recent years, archaeologists have conducted research around the core region at Mada’in Salih, Al-Khuraybah and Al-Ula Old Town, aghost township labyrinth of stone and mudbrick homes which — according to Foote — was occupied from at the least the 12 th century right up until the 1980 s.
But the new survey extends to many areas that have never been studied, and involves the use of cutting-edge technology that is revolutionizing the field of archaeology .
Jamie Quartermaine, who is leading the survey in the core-area, is a innovator in high-tech archaeology. “The scale of the study we’re doing wouldn’t have been possible in the past, utilizing conventional ground survey techniques, ” he says.
The process begins with a flight in a illumination aircraft equipped with a scanner and camera. “We take very detailed high-resolution photographs from the air, ” says Quartermaine. “The camera captures objects four inches( 10 cms) wide-ranging from altitudes up to 5,000 feet( 1,500 meters ). ”
The scanners use LIDAR( light imaging, detecting and ranging) technology to kill laser beams to the ground and calculate the exact altitude of each survey point.
The photographic and LIDAR data is then combined to produce a 3D relief map. “It’s like GoogleEarth but with a much greater degree of detail, ” says Quartermaine .
Once he has identified promising websites, Quartermaine zooms in with dronings fitted with powerful cameras. Finally, the team goes in by ground. “We use 4X4s to visit websites recognized from the air to verify, describe, sketch and photograph them, ” he says .
Ground research, tells Quartermaine, is the only behavior to realize rock arts and text found on horizontal boulder faces that are not visible from above. His squad do not have the time or resources to translate the texts, which are written in numerous speeches including Aramaic, Arabic, Nabataean, Greek and Latin. Others will do that later .