Researchers Discover Lost City in Iraq Using Drones and Satellite Footage

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A team of British researchers have made a stunning discovery in Iraq, where they have identified the remains of a lost city known as Qalatga Darband not far from the Kurdish capital of Erbil. That story in and of itself is pretty fascinating, but it is how they found the missing city that is just as interesting.

Working from declassified spy satellite footage from the 1960’s, the researchers from the British Museum studied a section of Iraq known as Darband-i Rania. This is a pass through the mountains that was once used by Alexander the Great when he pursued the Persian emperor Darius III after defeating him on the battlefield at Gaugamela. Other than that, this remote and rugged area has had little claim to fame, with those that live there eking out a meager life as they have for centuries. But after pouring over the images, archaeologists discovered some irregularities in the ground that might indicate an ancient manmade site that until now had gone unnoticed.

The old spy photos showed what appeared to be limestone blocks scattered about the area. The images also indicated that there could be substantial ruins hidden beneath the surface, just out of sight. But, rather than send a full expedition to inspect the area in person, they instead flew a drone over the area to see what they could spot. They found a wheat field now standing in place, but the shapes of stone walls were still visible and where the remains of the ancient city could be spotted the crops didn’t grow well and their colors were inconsistent.

With this information in hand, the team set out to see for themselves, and have now begun a preliminary archaeological dig. They have identified the site as Qalatga Darband, which once was a thriving city under Alexander’s reign, with wine being a primary export. So far, the team has found a significant building filled with statues that fall inline with Greek art work of the era, as well as what appears to be a fortress that guarded the nearby pass.

Work will be ongoing of course, and the find there could be quite substantial. The use of technology is fantastic as well, showing us how modern tools are changing the way that archaeology is conducted.

Kraig Becker