We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Research & business

View Research Directory

Vanishing Landscape of Syria: ground and space mapping of a diverse world

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.


Satellite image data, is now widely used in archaeology, and can provide a means to assess rapidly the quantity, type and preservation of archaeological remains across large-swathes of territory. However, the accuracy of imagery interpretation depends upon the quality of the underlying ground control. This project seeks to use the tight ground control provided for a 600 km² region of the Orontes Valley by the landscape project Settlement and Landscape Development in the Homs Region, Syria, to facilitate the systematic investigation of satellite imagery covering 2500 km² of largely unsurveyed terrain adjacent to the original survey area. The aim is therefore to assess the extent to which the patterns detected through fieldwork, can be extrapolated across a wider area on the basis of remotely sensed data. The project then aims to compare long-term development of settlement in west Syria, an area which remains poorly understood, with trends identified in better-surveyed areas such as Israel and Jordan to the south, and Mesopotamia to the east.
The integration of field and remotely sensed data, collected over several decades, often with different levels of associated certainty, has presented a significant challenge. Throughout 2009-10, the project RA Dr Rob Dunford developed many of the data-management procedures that are now used by the Fragile Crescent Project. Although additional field verification is no longer possible, key areas currently under research include:

  • 1. the comparability of soil mark extents as these appear on different satellite datasets, including the impact of factors such as seasonality, ground cover and sensor specification;
  • 2. an assessment of the relationship between site extents as suggested by Corona data, and the distribution of surface artefact scatters on the ground
  • 3. the relationship between settlement change over time, and local hydrology as this can be reconstructed from the SRTM Digital Elevation Model and examination of wadi sections.


Beck, A. R. & Philip, G. (2013). The Archaeological Exploitation of Declassified Satellite Photography in Semi-arid Environments. In Archaeology from Historical Aerial and Satellite Archives. Hanson, William S. & Oltean, Ioana, A. Springer. 261-278.

T.J. Wilkinson, G. Philip, J. Bradbury, R. Dunford, A.Ricci, D.Lawrence, N. Galiatsatos, D. Donoghue and S. Smith (in press) Agricultural cores, connectivity and risk in the northern Fertile Crescent: contextualizing early urbanization. Journal of World Prehistory

In the maps above, sites associated with the place name ‘tell’ (=mound) most of which are of Bronze / Iron Age date are marked in red; those designated by the term khirba (ruin) which is usually associated with sites of Roman or Medieval date are marked in green. While tells show a very close association with water courses (blue lines), this is less obviously the case with khirba place names. Note also the absence of khirba place names in the western part of the study area. This suggests that not only were there significant differences between patterns of settlement and land-use in Pre and post-Roman periods, but that the intensity of these changes varied across the landscape.


From the Department of Archaeology