Archaeology programmes getting boost from NASA

Archaeology programmes getting boost from NASA

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US: The archaeology programme is growing and will soon double in size, to an annual budget of USD one million, according to Craig Dobson, manager of the NASA space archaeology programme. He was attending the meetings of Mayanists. Further, he added that NASA issues several three-year grants for the use of remote sensing at ancient sites. In addition to the Caracol tests, the program is supporting two other Maya research efforts, surveys of settlement patterns in North Africa and Mexico and reconnaissance of ancient ruins in the Mekong River Valley and around Angkor Wat.

NASA has recently stepped up its promotion of technologies developed for broad surveys of Earth and other planets to be used in archaeological research. Starting with a few preliminary tests over the years, the agency has now established a formal programme for financing archaeological remote-sensing projects by air and space.

The husband-and-wife team of Arlen F. Chase and Diane Z. Chase also attended the meeting. Approximately a year back, they yielded 3-D images of the site of ancient Caracol, in Belize, one of the great cities of the Maya lowlands, using airborne laser signals that penetrate the jungle cover. In an interview with The New York Times, the Chases noted that previous remote-sensing techniques focused more on the discovery of archaeological sites than on the detailed imaging of on-ground remains. The sensors could not see through much of the forest to resolve just how big the ancient cities had been. As a consequence, archaeologists may have underestimated the scope of Mayan accomplishments.

The years the Chases spent on traditional explorations at Caracol laid the foundation for confirming the effectiveness of the laser technology. Details in the new images clearly matched their maps of known structures and cultural features, the archaeologists said. When the teams returned to the field, they used the laser images to find several causeways, terraced fields and many ruins they had overlooked.

The Chases said the new research demonstrates how a large, sustainable agricultural society could thrive in a tropical environment and thus account for the robust Maya civilization in its classic period from A.D. 250 to 900.

“This will revolutionise the way we do settlement studies of the Maya,” Dr. Arlen Chase said on returning from this spring’s research at Caracol.

Source: The New York Times