Archeologist discovers thousands of ancient sites - on Google Earth

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The trouble with being an archaeologist is that it's actually quite hard work. It tends to involve quite a bit of digging stuff up, often under a baking desert sun.

But not for Professor David Kennedy, from the University of Western Australia, who's managed to make nearly two thousand archeological discoveries in Saudi Arabia, without ever having visited the country - or even leaving his armchair.

Instead, Kennedy scrutinized 1,240 square kilometres of the country using Google Earth. He found 1,977 potential archaeological sites, including 1,082 ancient tombs.

He was able to check out the authenticity of two of them by asking a local friend to drive out and take a look.

Kennedy told the Sydney Morning Herald that Saudi Arabia was virtually inaccessible for archaeologists, but that Google Earth made a great alternative.

"Saudi Arabia has a rich archaeological heritage but it is relatively poorly recorded and understood," he said.

"The extensive remains of great prehistoric cemeteries in such places as Yabrin in the interior have been known for many years but little-explored. More widely, extensive and numerous ruins are known in many areas but seldom recorded even superficially."

In his paper, which appears in the Journal of Archaeological Science, Kennedy says that Saudi Arabia is one of the least-explored countries archaeologically. Most of the sites he's discovered appear to be pre-Islamic, which may have something to do with this; the government isn't particularly keen to focus on this period of history.