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Declassified U2 Spy Plane Photos Reveal Forgotten Historic Sites

first_img Declassified photographs captured by American U2 spy planes that flew over the Middle East in the 1950s are helping archaeologists locate and study previously hidden historic sites.The black-and-white images, which became public in 1997, show a range of important areas, ranging from sites along the Nile in Egypt to the city of Allepo in Syria and the Assyrian city of Nimrud in modern day Iraq. They were captured by U2 spy planes that flew across Europe, the Middle East, and central eastern Asia to document military targets.Even though they have been declassified for more than 20 years, the images were never indexed or scanned. The CORONA spy satellite program, which the U.S. ran between 1959 and 1972, also had historical aerial documentation but the U2 photos are earlier and found to be higher resolution than even the best CORONA images, offering the chance to see historical features undecipherable by CORONA or already gone by the time of those missions.“U2 photographs allowed us to present a more complete picture of the archaeological landscape than would have otherwise been possible,” wrote archaeologists Emily Hammer of the University of Pennsylvania and Jason Ur of Harvard University in paper published in the journal Advances in Archaeological Practice.Hammer and Ur analyzed thousands of high- and low-resolution frames, and discovered many historical and archeological features, including prehistoric hunting traps, 3,000-year-old irrigation canals, and 60-year-old marsh villages no longer visible today.U2 spy plane images of southern Iraq present the layout, size, and environmental position of Marsh Arab communities in the late 1950s and early 1960s, many of which disappeared. (Photo Credit: Emily Hammer and Jason Ur / Advances in Archaeological Practice)The work represents the first archaeological use of U2 spy plane imagery — and a new and exciting window into history.“The photos provide a fascinating look at the Middle East several decades ago, showing, for example, historical Aleppo long before the massive destruction wrought in the ongoing civil war,” Hammer said in a University of Pennsylvania blog post. “Plus, the work and the accompanying online resources will allow other researchers to identify and access U2 photos for the first time.”Because the U2 images were not very user-friendly, Hammer and Ur faced challenges in accessing and reproducing the film negatives.According to the University of Pennsylvania, the researchers had to select the film rolls they wanted moved from the National Archives’ storage center in Kansas to the aerial film section in Maryland. Once there, they unspooled hundreds of feet of film over a light table to identify pertinent frames, then photographed the negatives in pieces using a 100-millimeter macro lens. Later, they stitched together and adjusted each frame, before geo-referencing the photos using GIS software to match up images with coordinates of real-world places.The work paid off for the researchers. The images revealed many important archaeological features, including prehistoric hunting traps called desert kites in eastern Jordan. Desert kites, stone-wall structures that date back 5,000 to 8,000 years, were used to trap gazelle and other similar animals. The dry desert of eastern Jordan preserved many of them, but agricultural expansion in western Jordan dismantled or destroyed many more. The satellite images bring them back to life, showcasing a web of diamond-shaped enclosures with what look like long kite tails, offering the best view, to date, of these important hunting tools.Declassified U2 spy plane images also showed the canal system in northern Iraq, which provides insight into how an early empire maintained its power and governed. (Photo Credit: Emily Hammer and Jason Ur / Advances in Archaeological Practice)The images also showed an Assyrian canal system in northern Iraq, which provide insight into how an early empire governed; and the layout, size, and environmental position of Marsh Arab communities in the late 1950s and early 1960s, many of which disappeared after massive hydroelectric dams in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq impounded the rivers, and especially after the government of Saddam Hussein deliberately drained the marshes.“The activities of ancient human communities frequently left large-scale traces on the landscape,” Hammer said. “You can’t see these patterns when you’re standing on top of them, but just like stepping back from the blobs of paint on an Impressionist painting reveals the full picture, aerial and satellite imagery allow the patterns to emerge.”More on Geek.com:Laser Scans Uncover Hidden Military Traverse Underneath AlcatrazGeo-Radar Detects Viking Ship Buried Underground in NorwayWatch: Newly Restored Footage of 1953 Nuclear Tests Extremely Rare, Two-Colored Lobster Found in MaineNew Species of Giant Flying Reptile Identified By Scientists Stay on targetlast_img read more