Satellite Remote Sensing and Survey Archaeology


As the field of archaeological remote sensing is still relatively young, it is prone to
trial and error, especially when applying methodologies in the field. This is where the
recording part of the ground survey becomes so critical

. Many parts of the world are
undeserved by existing remote sensing work; and even less so with the applied remote
sensing work required for archaeology. Hence, any attempts at analytical remote sensing
methods may be devoid of any local reference points.
Worldwide, in general, each region and sub-region will pose problems for remote
sensing and archaeological survey work due to the nature of satellite imagery analysis.
Here it is essential to know what satellites can and cannot detect (e.g. ancient canals
or buried walls). Paying close attention to the additional factors affecting recording can
help with initial survey work. Developing specific survey forms for each region is crucial
, and will be discussed in detail in this chapter. Each team can adapt such
survey forms to their own needs, but the suggested format provides a good starting point
already tested during a number of remote sensing ground survey seasons in floodplain
environments in Egypt.
Cost–benefit analysis should be central to any discussion of how remote sensing can
aid regular survey. How much can a single survey gain from using remote sensing as
opposed to a regular foot survey? This author’s own research in Middle Egypt furnished
one example. It is important to demonstrate the specific advantages and disadvantages
of incorporating satellite imagery over a sole reliance on traditional survey techniques.
Thirty-five years ago, before the adoption of satellite remote sensing in general, one
would need to compile lists of known archaeological sites in the survey areas and place
them onto modern maps. In the case of the current study, the parameters for choosing
the survey area included selecting Middle Egypt because it remained mostly poorly
studied from the perspective of analyzing settlement patterns through time (Kemp
2005). Instead of evaluating satellite remote sensing techniques, one can test more
general ground surveying techniques: Pacing set distances such as 100 m transects, or
randomly choosing areas (quadrants) for more intensive searching. Even using aerial
photographs, many surface sites could not be located, being buried beneath modern
towns and villages. For the sake of direct comparison, in this hypothetical study only
one person would be responsible for locating the sites, accompanied by an Egyptian
inspector from the Supreme Council for Antiquities (SCA), a driver and a policeman 

In initiating foot surveys without the benefit of pre-selected target sites, one immediately
runs into various problems. For example, approaching a surface survey of Middle
Egypt, one is faced with a former floodplain region characterized by a vast area of rice,
cotton, and sugarcane cultivation . The first question is where should one  begin? In regards 
to security issues, any current archaeological survey team would be permitted to visit only 
six places in one day and must tell the police exactly where they
are going 24 hours in advance. The study area in Middle Egypt spans 15 × 30 km,
much of which is inaccessible to field walking since large tracts of cultivation often lie
beneath water. Furthermore, one cannot walk in fields without obtaining each owner’s
permission, while parasites in irrigation water offer serious health hazards. Navigation
problems arise through the numerous canals and channels obstructing potential walking
routes. This leaves main and secondary road connecting towns and villages for the actual
survey route.
Other problems arise. Where would a traditional survey team look for sites in modern
towns and what would they hope to find? A number of modern settlements in Middle
Egypt are large enough to represent small cities. 
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