A Google Maps survey of Amarna (Egypt)

Amelia Carolina Sparavigna,
Dipartimento di Fisica, Politecnico di Torino, Torino, Italy

A recent announcement of some pyramids, buried under the sand of Egypt and discovered by means of infrared remote sensing, renewed the interest on the archaeological surveys aided by satellites [1]. Here we propose the use of images, obtained from those of Google Maps after some processing to enhance their details, to survey the archaeological site of Amarna, Egypt. 

In fact, the archaeological surveys, usually performed by means of airplanes, are necessary to observing the sites from above and gain a better view of the landforms. In some cases, the survey of a region ends with the discovery of new archaeological sites or with the precise location of an ancient lost town [2].
Satellites give different opportunities, according to their equipment. BBC announced that Sarah Parcak, of the University of Alabama, used some data from NASA infrared equipped satellites to survey the Egypt. Waiting for a more detailed report on her researches and on the methods the team used, we can just tell that the infrared inspection is based on collecting the radiances in various wavelength bands, in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum. The Egypt's Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs, Zahi Hawass, seems to be quite interested to the new technologies, but, as he told Ahram Online, the satellite infrared images are only able to locate the remains beneath the sand [3].  From the news on the Web it is not clear how many sites have been analyzed by the team of the University of Alabama. It seems that the amount of data collected by the researchers is huge.

Besides the analysis with infrared imagery, let us consider that there are other remote sensing techniques that can be useful in archaeology: among them we have the LIDAR system, which is, as we discussed in [4], able to see under the canopy of the forests, and the SIR-C/X-SAR imaging radar system, which has waves that can penetrate the clouds, and, under certain conditions, vegetation, ice and dry sand [5]. Of course, these facilities are not freely available and needs financial supports.

We could then ask ourselves if a free satellite service, such as Google Maps, can help in some archaeological researches in Egypt. It is my opinion that the answer is positive. In studying the Merowe Dam and the paleochannels of the Nile we could compare the images from SIR-C/X-SAR imaging radar system, with those of the Google Maps [6]. After a suitable image processing with some freely downloadable programs (GIMP, IRIS, AstroFracTool,[7]), the Google Maps revealed astonishing details of the network of old buried channels of Nile in the Nubian region. The same for the "raised fields" near the Titicaca Lake in Peru: the processing of the images clearly displayed the network of these ancient earthworks and canals [8]. Many of these structures are probably buries under some sediments of the lake.

Let us then try to apply the image processing to the Google Maps of some archaeological areas in Egypt, where according to the press. I am proposing the use of image processing on Amarna, that you can see below the References.

1. Egyptian pyramids found by infra-red satellite images, F. Cronin, BBC New, 24 May 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-13522957
2. Documentation of the Abandoned Town La Ciudad Perdida in Peru Combining VHR Satellite Data and Terrestrial Measurement, K. Pavelka, M. Bukovinsky, J. Svatuskova, Remote Sensing for Science, Education and Natural and Cultural Heritage, Rainer Reuter Ed., EARSeL, 2010.
3. News broadcast by BBC is inaccurate, says Hawass, N. El-Aref, Ahramonline, 26 May 2011, http://english.ahram.org.eg/
4. Lines under the forest, A.C. Sparavigna, http://www.archaeogate.org/, and http://arxiv.org/abs/1105.5277.
5. SIR-C X-SAR Earth-Imaging Radar for NASA's Mission to Planet Earth, Infopage.
6. The Merowe Dam on the Nile, A.C. Sparavigna, http://www.archaeogate.org/, and, Merowe Dam and the inundation of paleochannels of the Nile, A.C. Sparavigna, http://arxiv.org/abs/arXiv:1011.4911.
7. Enhancing the Google imagery using a wavelet filter, A.C. Sparavigna, http://arxiv.org/abs/1009.1590.
8. The geoglyphs of Titicaca, A.C. Sparavigna, http://www.archaeogate.org/ and Symbolic landforms created by ancient earthworks near Lake Titicaca, A.C. Sparavigna, http://arxiv.org/abs/1009.2231.


"The site of Amarna  is located on the east bank of the Nile River in the modern Egyptian province of Minya, some 58 km south of the city of al-Minya, 312 km south of the Egyptian capital Cairo and 402 km  north of Luxor. The site of Amarna includes several modern villages, chief of which are el-Till in the north and el-Hagg Qandil in the south. The area contains an extensive Egyptian archaeological site that represents the remains of the capital city newly–established and built by the Pharaoh Akhenaten of the late Eighteenth Dynasty (c. 1353 BC), and abandoned shortly afterwards. The name for the city employed by the ancient Egyptians is written as Akhetaten (or Akhetaton – transliterations vary) in English transliteration. Akhetaten means "Horizon of the Aten." "The area was also occupied during later Roman and early Christian times, excavations to the south of the city have found several structures from this period."

Here a map, adapted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Amarna_map_large.jpg

We can find the sites in the ACME Map, as shown here:

Here the northern town

One of the marked places is the Great Temple.
Here the image as it is.

Let us see the processing with AstroFracTool

and  Iris

And the Small Temple, original, Iris and AstroFracTool processed


Here the "Desert Altar", in the non-processed image

and processed

The workers' village, original and processed
And now a "desert texture"


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