Old Dirt – New Thoughts

February 4, 2007

Google Earth Archaeology

Filed under: Teaching @ 6:53 pm and

A number of bloggers, scholars, and news stories have highlighted the intriguing opportunity to use the free satellite images on Google Earth to identify and study archaeological sites.

 Teotihuacan (Google Earth image 1/16/2007) 
Teotihuacan from 15,500 ft (Google Earth image 1/16/2007).

Ur from 1600 ft (Google Earth Image 1/16/2007). Ur from 1600 ft (Google Earth Image 1/16/2007).

I am amazed at what I learn about archaeological landscapes when I can explore them in Google Earth. I’m also amazed at how well one can see surface features and architectural remains in the high resolution areas. One of the really impressive explorations of Google Earth archaeology is posted by James Q. Jacobs. His web site includes a very interesting discussion about monumental architecture from archaeological sites around the world.

I’m working on my own Google Earth “survey”, the results of which I will post sometime soon. In this post I want to write about the application of Google Earth in the classroom. Last month I taught my World Prehistory course. Every time I teach this subject I always begin by telling my students my fantasy would be to have a helicopter, a pilot, and unlimited funds. We would fly to all the sites so that we could see them in person and in their surrounding landscape – see them “in situ“. To me archaeology is about places and things (and our ideas about these places and things). To really grasp archaeology, to understand our theories, to connect with the past, one needs to see and touch the places and things that we study. Google Earth is as close to my helicopter classroom as I’m likely to ever come.

The assignment I gave my students was to develop a “tour” of a world region outlining the prehistoric and historic developments by highlighting its important sites and/or archaeological settings. Google Earth allows them to include text, photographs, and web links with each placemark. So I saw this assignment as having many of the elements of a traditional term paper, but presented in a geographical format. The students utilized a variety of research and computer skills while learning about archaeology, geography, and a new technology.

You can see an example of my students’ work at the GE community forum. The example is for the site of Cuzco put together by Lindsey Jo Helms.  I was really impressed by her use of photographs and overlays.


  1.   Simon Seamount — February 5, 2007 @ 6:36 pm    

    I am excited that you are using GE in your world history courses. I love ancient history and archaeology. One of my goals is to use SketchUp http://sketchup.google.com to recreate ancient archaeological ruins for viewing on GE. Not having much time these days, I created an experiment on the location of the Ur pyramid, a short attempt to show ancient buildings being built over time. http://worldchronicle.net/Yartha.php

  2.   Phil — February 6, 2007 @ 2:11 pm    


    This is a great article about using Google Earth in a different way. Your students are lucky to have someone like yourself who can inspire them like this.

    Please continue your work!!

    Phil (on the Google Earth team)

  3.   Patrick Saltonstall — February 13, 2007 @ 3:59 pm    

    yesterday I did some section 106 work, and your blog gave me the idea to use a google earth aerial photo in lieu of an outdated USGS map. Thanks!



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