Dispatches from the Front

Dispatch #1, by Prof. Harold Vogelaar on the Middle East, brought response; Thank you. And since the problem of Israel-Palestine relations has not gone away, we'll keep it available. This next Dispatch -- on a different subject and from a different part of the world, as promised -- follows. It sheds light on how modern mapping technology can be used in surprising ways. 

Dispatch from the Front #2

Terry Hardaker enjoys an international reputation in mapping, serving most recently as the Chief Cartographer at Oxford Cartographers, United Kingdom. Leaving he field of cartography, as he did in 2012, does not, however, mean losing his fascination with maps. He carried that expertise into his new field – archeology – and from the urbanized, professional world of the U.K. to the far-away, roadless vistas of Namibia, in southwest Africa.

First, let's be clear: cartography's modern tools such as Google Earth were not invented in order to facilitate our search for human origins. Yet, as this dispatch from today's front lines of exploration makes clear, such tools have surprising effects. They may serve as bridges between the 21st century and the ancient past, between separated cultures, between seemingly disparate disciplines: geography, the study of prehistoric civilizations, the environmental sciences – who knows what more?

Over the last few years while working on Palaeolithic sites in Western Namibia we have increasingly used Google Earth imagery as an archaeological tool. We are only just coming to realise how significant this resource is in our own subject and I am sure that there are many other fields of environmental science that are also finding new uses for it. In our case, because we are working in a region that is only thinly covered with vegetation, we are able to pick out the geological formations, and to spot areas where stone tools may be clustered, even though we have never been there. This has greatly speeded up our search time in a Study Area 110 x 80km in size where there are almost no roads!

I wonder, Ward, whether you might feel that this resource and this experience, both threatening to traditional cartography and augmenting it, is worthy of mention.

In follow-up correspondence, Hardaker provides more detail on how the new technology has been helpful:

In the field of archaeology, traces of past civilisations can be spotted from Google Earth images, often seen when dry conditions have altered the colour of the soil. Where semi-arid landscapes allow the geological features to show through, it has even been possible to predict the location of prehistoric stone tool scatters that have been lying on the surface undetected for half a million years.

Thanks to Terry Hardaker, cartographer and archeologist, for this Dispatch.