Researchers used computers to analyze satellite images of a 23,000 square kilometer region in the Upper Khabur Basin of northeastern Syria. The finding? They believe they can identify 14,312 possible sites of human settlements dating back eight thousand years. The region, a relatively small 100 miles square, was nearly 3% occupied at various points over the intervening millennia.
Harvard archeologist Jason Ur collaborated with MIT researcher Bjoern Menze to develop a system that identified settlements based on a several factors. Old sites tend to leave mounds that show distinctive shapes and colors from the collapse of building materials such as mud bricks.
“With these computer science techniques, however, we can immediately come up with an enormous map which is methodologically very interesting, but which also shows the staggering amount of human occupation over the last 7,000 or 8,000 years,” Ur said in a press release issued by Harvard.
"What's more, anyone who comes back to this area for any future survey would already know where to go," he continued. "There's no need to do this sort of initial reconnaissance to find sites. This allows you to do targeted work, so it maximizes the time we have on the ground."
The article, “Mapping patterns of long-term settlement in Northern Mesopotamia at a large scale,” appears in the March 19 issue of PNAS.