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ASU Researcher Uses NASA Satellite To Explore Archaeological Site

Overview of the Iron Age copper production site of Khirbat en-Nahas, Jordan. Extensive black 'slag mounds' indicate ancient smelting of copper ore mined locally. Photo by Thomas E. Levy, UCSD Levantine Archaeology Laboratory.
by Staff Writers
Tempe AZ (SPX) Dec 06, 2010
Remote sensing has been integral to the field of archaeology for many years, but Arizona State University archaeologist Stephen H. Savage is literally taking the use of that technology to new heights. His brand of remote sensing involves a hyperspectral instrument called Hyperion aboard NASA's Earth Observing-1 satellite.

Savage's focus is Khirbat en-Nahas, a major copper mining and smelting site of the ancient world. Located in an inhospitable valley in Jordan, the area has yielded to Savage and his team evidence of sophisticated economic and political activity dating back about 3,000 years.

In a multi-page feature, NASA News notes that - despite never having set foot on the ground at Khirbat en-Nahas - Savage has gathered information from the site beyond other archaeologists' ken, thanks to his innovative use of Hyperion's immense spectroscopic abilities.

Originally, Savage - affiliated faculty in ASU's School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and director of the Geo-Archaeological Information Applications Lab - planned to use Hyperion to detect the light signature of copper smelting slag, thus locating more smelting sites near Khirbat en-Nahas. But as he worked with the data, he discovered new possibilities.

"Hyperion has really opened up a whole new avenue of analysis that we hadn't even explored before," Savage said. "I can tell you where in the area the ore is coming from; which parts of the site were used for smelting and which were not; and that different parts of the site were drawing ore from different regions."

Gathering such information via field work would be exorbitant in terms of money and time, but all Savage has to do is log in to a website, target his area of interest on a map, and click his mouse. That tells the satellite to aim its instruments at the site as it passes over.

Savage, who has a space archaeology grant from NASA, was introduced to Hyperion imagery last summer by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center employees he met while in Cairo for a state-sponsored conference involving representatives from the U.S. government and the Egyptian Space Agency.

Initially designed to try out new technologies, the Earth Observing-1 satellite has morphed into a remote-user test lab for pioneering efforts like Savage's. This year marks a decade since the satellite was launched into space - not bad for a vessel intended to fly for a single year and last a mere six months longer than that.

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