Current Research:

The Ancient Maya, Peten, Guatemala

The Petén, northern Guatemala, was once inhabited by a population of several million Maya before their collapse in the 9th century A.D. A collaborative agreement between NASA and the University of New Hampshire has provided remote sensing products for the study of settlement patterns around the ancient Maya site of San Bartolo in northern Guatemala. IKONOS and Quickbird high-resolution satellite imagery allow archaeologists to rapidly identify the locations of prehistoric cities in the dense jungles of this region...

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Past Research:

Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

The Chaco Canyon Research Center had done aerial photography and a ground survey. This was the beginning of an archeological database, to which, we proposed to add thermal infrared multispectral data. If our sensors could locate prehistoric features, this would prove that using remote sensing technology could work for archeology. The Thermal Infrared Multispectral Scanner (TIMS) was flown by NASA over Chaco Canyon for the first time in spring of 1982. TIMS measures temperature differences near the ground...

Wright Hangar, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio

The airborne remote sensing study of the 1910 Hangar area was conducted. Two instruments were used: a CAMS (or calibrated airborne multispectral sensor) and an Inframetrics hand held thermal scanner. The CAMS collects data in the visible, infrared, and thermal bands. At that time, it was in the final stages of development at NASA. The Inframetrics Model 740 hand held scanner is one of the most powerful thermal scanners that are commercially available...

Arenal Region, Costa Rica

Linear features were detected in the color infrared photographs. First thought to be roadways, they seemed to be several feet wide at the surface, upon excavation, they turned out to be footpaths, the oldest known footpaths. Using excavation and dating techniques, it was determined that there were two time periods for the footpaths. The earliest dated to 500 BC (2500 years ago). The faint lines indicating footpaths on the infrared photographs could only be seen in open pasture lands. Later, TIMS was used to discern the footpaths beneath the thick forest canopy...

Ancient Israel, Fire-signal Communication

Drs. Tom Sever (NASA MSFC) and Oded Borowski (Emory University, Atlanta) initiated a study of a fire-signal system in ancient Israel in the mid 1990's. Dr. Borowski found over 60 references to the communication system in ancient biblical texts, Rabbinic writings, and letters. The current physical and political landscape of Israel precludes testing of hypotheses using traditional techniques. Consequently, the researchers used Geographic Information System (GIS) analysis to conduct line-of-sight modeling and view-shed analysis. Twenty-six ancient sites from the Iron-II Age were analyzed against a background of digitized topographic data. Preliminary fieldwork at some of the sites has verified the existence of this fire-signal communication system. It is hoped that the Mid-East political situation stabilizes so that the research can be completed. The research provides insight into the technical capability of the ancient Israelites and documents the oldest known signaling communication system in human history.

Poverty Point, Louisiana

Drs. Tom Sever and Jon Gibson used remote sensing to identify landscape anomalies and guide excavations at the site of Poverty Point, Louisiana, a prehistoric site in the Lower Mississippi Valley. This location served as a test site for the application of several thermal infrared imaging products including Landsat thematic mapper images (TMS) taken in 1972, 1979, and 1982, and low-altitude, fixed-wing aircraft carring Thermal Infrared Multispectral scanners (TIMS) in 1982, 1983, and 1984. Remote sensing analysis was able to define sub-surface linear landscape features that run through and around the site of Poverty Point. Subsequent excavation and ground-verification confirmed the remote identification of these features.

Rio Abiseo, Peru

Drs. Tom Sever and Tom Lennon began a 5-year project to study the ruins of 1,500 year old sites in the eastern Andes of Peru. Archaeological sites in this area, many previously undiscovered by archaeologists yet under constant threat of destruction from looters, were identified by Dr. Sever using remote sensing. Landsat satellite images and aerial photography were used to determine the locations of these prehistoric sites to assist in their preservation in the Rio Abiseo National Park of Peru. Not distant from the rock-cliff dwellings that make up ancient gold-mining outpost of Gran Pajaten, remote sensing took over where traditional survey methods could not be employed. More than 250 structures were mapped through the dense jungles and treacherously steep terrain at the nearby site of Cerro Central. The finds of this project further support the use of remote sensing as an important archaeological tool.


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