Copyright 2006 - UNESCO

Space for Heritage

Southern Iraq Uruk-Warka 

Satellite Imagery to Observe and Safeguard Archaeology

Satellite image of Uruk-Warka site
© DLR, European Space Imaging
Uruk-Warka, situated c. 300 km south of Baghdad, is one of the oldest metropolises of the Ancient World.
It was inhabited from around 4 000 BC to c. 400 AD and is known as the city where writing was invented. It is the home of the world’s oldest epics, the Epic of Gilgamesh and where early state formation and administration was developed. The cultural site is enormous, already around 3 000 BC the city had an extension of 5,5 km².
Excavations by German Missions started at the site in 1912. The German Archaeological Institute has been involved in on-going research; however, recently field work has had to be interrupted. To date, it is estimated that only 5% of the enormous city has been analyzed.
Uruk, Iraq archeological site
© IKONOS - DLR (German Space Agency)
In 2001, a scientific project was launched to collect information that could provide better knowledge of the whole structure of the city.
With the help of a geophysical survey, precious insights into structures buried under mud hills became possible. Cross checking of the new data with previous existing archaeological data enabled to date and to interpret all the structures.

Unfortunately, the site is under potential threat of illegal digging and associated looting. To better monitor the site a new project has been initiated with the German Space Agency (DLR) using recent satellite imagery.

Methods of comparing satellite images with known ground data such as archaeological features, magnetometry imagery and topographical data are also being developed.
The study will help to estimate the state of preservation of the whole archaeological site as well as provide a view from space of the whole ancient infrastructure.