Satellites reveal lost cities in Libya

Posted by Kate Taylor

Satellite imagery has revealed evidence of a lost Saharan civilisation in Libya’s south-western desert.

With the fall of Gaddafi opening the way for archaeologists to explore the country’s pre-Islamic heritage, a British team has discovered more than 100 fortified farms and villages with castle-like structures and several towns, most dating from between AD 1 and 500.

The cities were built by a little-known ancient civilisation called the Garamantes, who turn out to be far more advanced and historically significant than ancient sources suggested.

The University of Leicester team has identified the mud brick remains of castle-like complexes, with walls still standing up to four metres high. They've also found traces of dwellings, cairn cemeteries, associated field systems, wells and sophisticated irrigation systems.

"These settlements had been unremarked and unrecorded under the Gaddafi regime," says project leader David Mattingly.

They were highly civilised, living in large-scale fortified settlements, predominantly as oasis farmers. It was an organised state with towns and villages, a written language and state of the art technologies. The Garamantes were pioneers in establishing oases and opening up trans-Saharan trade."

The research was halted in February when the anti-Gaddafi revolt started, but should resume soon. The Libyan antiquities department, badly under-resourced under Gaddafi, is closely involved in the project.

"It is a new start for Libya’s antiquities service and a chance for the Libyan people to engage with their own long-suppressed history," says Mattingly.

"These represent the first towns in Libya that weren’t the colonial imposition of Mediterranean people such as the Greeks and Romans. The Garamantes should be central to what Libyan school children learn about their history and heritage."

Similar satellite mapping techniques have also been used to identify lost pyramids in Egypt and atchaeological sites in Saudi Arabia.