How Google Earth has become a valuable archaeological tool

google earth

Play to listen to my interview with Dr Madry

In 2005, an Italian computer programmer made a unique discovery while viewing his house from space using Google Earth. Finding unidentifiable rectangular shadows nearby his house, he analysed further and concluded that they must have been ancient remains. After contacting local archaeologists, they confirmed that what the man saw was in fact the ruins of an ancient Roman villa.

Ever since, Google Earth has become a convenient tool for archaeologists to survey large areas for potential archaeological sites. One of the first archaeologists to make use of the program, which Google obtained from military satellite imagery, was Dr Scott Madry, Professor of Archaeology at the University of North Carolina. He has since become an innovator in the field of archaeology, by adapting archaeological surveying techniques to suit the usage of Google Earth and other satellite imagery, and has successfully used the program in his work area in the French region of Burgundy. There, he found a plethora of new sites using Google Earth that he hadn’t discovered in the thirty years beforehand.


This outline of an ancient Roman villa in a French farm shows how aerial prospecting can unearth archaeological sites by evaluating its effects on crop vegetation. This site was discovered by Madry in 1979, though Google Earth has since made such aerial prospecting an easier task.

Dr Madry conducted a lecture on his new form of “space archaeology” at the University of Adelaide earlier this week, and I had the chance to interview him about it (which you can listen to on the audio player above). One of the things I took from our chat was that using Google Earth was helping archaeologists discover sites before people could loot them and rob us of our historical cultural heritage or before industrialisation led to the degradation of the sites. Because of Google Earth’s convenience of use, the ability to save archaeologists time and money by enabling them to survey large areas without the use of aircraft, and through the ability to survey many otherwise untouchable territories, such as in the Middle East, using satellite imagery has increased the efficiency of archaeological prospecting. Also, it is an activity that can be conducted by students and everyday people, not just archaeologists, wherever they want to do it – so long as a computer and the internet are available.

Google Earth can also be used to view the destruction to archaeological sites caused by the Civil War in Syria, Source: livescience

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