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How to discover a lost city from your armchair

Days of wonder! I found a lost desert city some months ago - while sitting in my home. If you look at the two pictures above, you can see the original desert photo at the top. Look closely and you will see something hidden beneath the sand. What you see is a hidden city. Underneath the photo I have tried to make sense of the covered structures and created a simple city plan.

I will not tell you where to find the city – you have to find one on your own. Here are some simple guidelines to eventually become a full-fledged armchair archaeologist. 

Lost desert city, försvunna städer

It’s not always easy to take a vacation from field archaeology just because you happen to be at home. And it’s not really necessary. In fact, you don’t even have to be an archaeologist – at least not when it comes to find interesting stuff from the air. Sometimes, when relaxing at home, I use to open Google Earth and establish a search path – just for fun – nothing complicated here. I have found many potential archaeological sites over the years, not only when working in the field, but sitting in my home with a sleeping dog by my side. If you are interested, I can give you some hints on how to find the lost cities, but also how to interpret them.

First let me mention that you can trace city walls everywhere – beneath agricultural areas, forests, under shorelines and so forth. The problem is that you usually get stuck with only one satellite photo in Google Earth and you need to have some luck that the green areas are photographed during the right time of the year or that the water visibility is clear. Usually you need several different angles and use additional infrared photos or thermography to solve this matter. However, the sand in the desert usually stays the same all year around and as the word implies, these areas are vast and deserted. This means that the chances are bigger that you can be the first one to find a specific place of interest. 

Lost city, Google Earth Lost city, Google Earth

In short, download Google Earth to your computer and start "flying" by searching any area of interest. The best way to find hidden cities or village structures is to search from an altitude of about 400-1000 meters. In the program, you can see your current altitude in the lower right corner. If you want you can follow a grid, so that you don’t cover any area more than once – but to make things easy – try to begin by searching randomly at places where you can expect to find a city. You can for example carefully study and then follow old trade routes, but never forget that a city needs building material. If the city is made of sundried bricks you need water and clay and if houses are built by stone you need a quarry or nearby boulder stones. In any case, a city always needs water – look for areas with natural springs, rivers, river deltas and even dried up riverbeds. Also check for protecting hilltops, both for surrounding protection and hilltops that could securely elevate a city. If you consider facts such as these, it will help you to narrow downd your search area.

Last but not least – do not give away the position of your newly discovered city. Particularly not over the Internet. The problem with looted archaeological sites cannot be underestimated. Try instead to contact any archaeological institution, so that it can be professionally investigated when time and funding allows. However, sooner or later nobody can protect a site from illicit excavations and looting. Once any excavtions starts, you blow the position. Areas of habitation don’t usually contain easily recovered artefacts, but nearby tombs sometimes do.         

What can we learn from the city plan above? If you click HERE, you will be opening a new page where we can try to understand what's hidden under the dunes.



Richard Holmgren, 2014

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