David Kennedy: Ancient Ruins

Uploaded by SearchStories on 21.11.2011


I had a very interesting experience about five
or six years ago.
I had to get the equivalent of AAA to come out
to get my car started.
This very taciturn Australian who turned up--
he had to put a new battery in for me-- asked what I did.
I told him I was Roman archaeologist. He thought
about it for a moment and said, what do we need
one of those for.
As a Romanist, I began my research in the Middle East by
focusing exclusively on Roman things, and in particular the
Roman military.
Gradually, you get drawn into looking at other kinds of
sites, the villages, the towns, the road systems. And
once you get out into the desert areas, where you
wouldn't expect to find much at all, they are absolutely
littered with archaeological sites.
And we're now discovering that exactly the same is the case
in Saudi Arabia.
Archaeology was transformed in the 19th century, first of all
with the balloon.
About the same time the other development took place, namely
the camera.
The major breakthrough came with the airplane.
And then helicopters begin to come into use towards the end
of the second world war.
And they start to be used for archaeological
purposes after it.
As soon as you get up a few hundred feet, it all comes
into focus.
You can suddenly see the shape of what it is you've been
looking at.
It is so exciting that we're constantly sort of nudging
each other to look, there's another one over there.
And there's another one beyond that.
But if you look beyond Jordan, you find that none of its
neighbors allows aerial archaeology of the
kind that we do.
Very often we'd find we were following archaeological sites
one after another across the desert.
And we'd suddenly be told we're getting too close to the
border with Saudi Arabia now.
We can't go any closer.
We could see the sites continue right up to the
border, and presumably beyond it.
But we weren't allowed to fly there.
But we can now, to some extent at least, look over the border
into Saudi Arabia.
Google Earth allows us to do that now.
The process by which we can use Google Earth to study
landscapes in Saudi Arabia--
we zoom in on the area and then slowly scroll from the
top down to the bottom, move across 400 meters, and move
your way back north again, reach the top, move 400 meters
and down, much the way that the pilots would
do back in the 1920s.
Now I'm in a much more privileged position, that I
can sit here in my office and search Saudi Arabia.
It's such exciting work, looking at areas that nobody's
been to before, that I'm scouting landscapes that
nobody has studied before.
Even for people who are not working in archaeology, I'm
sure that curiosity drives them.
It's wanting to explain and understand what it is that
you're looking at and why things are the way they are.