Back in the day, archeology often meant trekking out to the middle of some remote desert, planting a spade in the earth, and digging. Indiana Jones did it, but so did Max Mallowan, better known as the husband of Agatha Christie. In fact, he first met Christie while excavating the ancient city of Ur, and the dig became the setting for her book “Murder in Mesopotomia.”

But archeology has come a long way since then, thanks to satellite technology and Google Earth. One Australian archeologist, David Kennedy, was able to scan 1,240 square miles of the forbidding Saudi Arabian peninsula from the comfort of his office in Perth. He found 1,977 potential archeological sites there. Kennedy based his decision on an analysis of images to determine whether they were man-made structures, shadows, or vegetation, and later sent a colleague to check some of them out. He had found what he was looking for—ancient burial sites of a culture that thrived 9,000 years ago. And he didn’t even have to brave the sand and scorpions and heat to do it.

There is a catch, Kennedy admits. “Just from Google Earth it’s impossible to know whether we have found a Bedouin structure that was made 150 years ago or 10,000 years ago.” Still, it is a vital clue to understanding a little known area of the world, where geopolitical conditions make it difficult to dig. The same things could be done in Afghanistan, and in fact, it has. In 2008, researchers in Melbourne found over 450 potential sites there, without having to put on a flack jacket to find a thing.

Read More at The New Scientist.
Read More at the Journal of Archeology.