The Eastern Mediterranean is one of the oldest continuously inhabited regions on Earth. According to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israel has more than a hundred archaeological sites, and Jerusalem alone boasts more than 15.
This series of three case studies examines different archaeological sites in Israel, and how historians and archaeologists are using GIS and other technologies to uncover the past.
Dr. Eric Cline, professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and co-director of The Megiddo Expedition and the Tel Kabri Project
Kabri, in the western Galilee region of Israel, is the remains of a Canaanite city that dates back to around 2000 BCE. The remains are surrounded by agricultural land and covered with banana and avocado trees. Among the finds on the site is a 3,500-year-old Canaanite palace.
“The interesting thing about the site is that it is basically a one-period site,” Cline says. “It was occupied in the middle Bronze Age and then abandoned for a reason that we still haven’t yet figured out. And then it’s really never re-occupied again.”
“I think the level of technology that we utilize at Kabri is mid-range, not as much as at some digs, but a lot more than others,” Cline says.
DISCOVERING THE SITE
Kabri was initially excavated by professors Aharon Kempinski and Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier from 1986 to 1993. Using remote sensing in 2003, Cline’s colleague Assaf Yasur-Landau realized there were walls far away from areas excavated on the previous dig.
In 2005, Cline and his team came back to Kabri with one primary goal.
“Our very first excavation season was really designed just to test whether remote sensing was accurate,” Cline says.
The archaeological crew detected what appeared to be walls by using remote-sensing equipment.
“They [the walls] were exactly where the remote sensing said they would be, but the remote sensing had not told us how far down they would be,” Cline says.
In 2012, Cline and his team used a new remote sensing tool called Multi-Frequency Domain Electromagnetic (MFDEM). This device can look at specific underground layers, allowing archaeologists to skip some sections of earth to focus on others.
When Cline and his team looked again at the 2012 remote sensing scans during the excavation season in 2013, they suddenly realized that it had worked.
"We just hadn’t known how to interpret them," Cline says. "Where we excavated, it turned out the orange dots were the jars, and the pink lines were the walls. In fact, remote sensing had indeed told us what was down there. We just didn’t interpret it properly."
DOCUMENTING THE FINDS
Archaeologists at Kabri use pen and paper to record their finds.
“At one point, I wanted to go completely digital,” Cline says. “I wanted to only use iPads in the field. I wanted to beam it [information] up to the cloud. We immediately ran into problems. For instance, if you are going to do that at the site, you need a generator of some sort, because you have to get on the Internet. Also, the Internet at the place where we were staying did not have unlimited data.
“When we are in the field, we are doing pen and paper,” Cline says. “In the afternoons, we enter the information on the computer into the database, which is the way people have been doing it for a decade or more.”
In 2013, the archaeologists used LIDAR at Kabri. LIDAR is a remote sensing technology that measures distance with a laser. Archaeologists at Kabri used it to map a storeroom that contained almost 40 storage jars. The device mapped the room to within three millimeters of accuracy in less than five hours.
“This is just another way of recording data that can be accessible to anybody else in case we interpreted it wrong,” Cline says. “Also in case something new comes out in five years. We still have the data in five years.”
INTERPRETING THE SITE
Cline says they use carbon-14 dating to determine the age of artifacts found at Kabri. The technique finds the approximate age of artifacts by measuring the amount of carbon that has decayed. Carbon-14 dating only works on organic substances—artifacts must contain material that was once alive, such as plant fibers.
DISSEMINATING NEW INFORMATION ABOUT THE SITE
Cline publishes his work in peer-reviewed academic journals, but he also uses social media to get the word out about Kabri.
“I use the WordPress blog mostly before the season, to recruit people,” he says. “During the season, I use Facebook. I post daily pictures of our excavations on Facebook, and I make them public so anyone can access them.”
The archaeologist also uses popular presentation software to prepare information for public appearances.
“Whenever I give a lecture on Kabri or Megiddo, I’m using PowerPoint, because you can’t talk about a site these days without an image,” Cline says. “In fact, that is what I do in the classroom too. Every idea, every concept, every thought has an image associated with it.”
person or thing having to do with school, particularly college or university education.
relatively easy to approach, use, or obtain.
generally or near an exact figure.
place where evidence of the past is being studied by scientists.
person who studies artifacts and lifestyles of ancient cultures.
material remains of a culture, such as tools, clothing, or food.
(web log) website that contains online personal reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer.
time period between the Stone Age and the Iron Age. The Bronze Age lasted between 3000 BCE and 500 BCE.
loosely affiliated tribes, kingdoms, or nations in the eastern Mediterranean (the Levant), existing in some form from the Stone Age through the Iron Age.
chemical element with the symbol C, which forms the basis of all known life.
type of carbon with two extra neutrons, useful in dating geological and archaeological material. Also called radiocarbon.
a collection of information for analysis and interpretation.
to rot or decompose.
having to do with numbers (or digits), often in a format used by computers.
soil or dirt.
to expose by digging.
long, thin, threadlike material produced by plants that aids digestive motion when consumed.
machine that converts one type of energy to another, such as mechanical energy to electricity.
any system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on the Earth's surface.
person who studies events and ideas of the past.
vast, worldwide system of linked computers and computer networks.
cyberspace, or the network of connected facilities which store information from millions of computers connected to the internet.
to explain or understand the meaning of something.
(acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) an instrument that emits a thin beam of light that does not fade over long distances.
(Light Detection and Ranging) method of detecting distant objects and determining their position, velocity, volume, or other characteristic by analysis of pulsed laser light reflected from their surfaces. Also called LADAR.
composed of living or once-living material.
large home or mansion, often the home of a leader or dignitary.
to work to supply a group with new members.
any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.
methods of information-gathering about the Earth's surface from a distance.
exact or precise.
the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.