Top 5 high-tech explorations for buried treasure

As Dubai excavates the desert and uncovers an Iron Age civilisation, Vision unearths the best archaeological digs and discoveries around the world in 2016 to date using new technology

Ancient techniques are no longer used to discover ancient civilisations. The eccentric Indiana Jones stereotype, carefully excavating bones for days with a tiny toothbrush is resigned to the past. Today, an osteologist uses particle vaporizing laser technology in a laboratory – not in one of the ‘cursed’ temples Steven Spielberg’s creation habitually encountered.

In 2016, technology has accelerated the rate of archeological progress so far that new discoveries have rarely been out of the news. In July for example, a combination of magnetometers, penetrating radar and soil resistivity was successfully used to send electrical currents into the ground to find a 15-acre Spanish fort buried under a golf course in South Carolina, America. Elsewhere in the world, in Egypt’s Valley of Kings, archaeologists have started to scan Tutankhamun’s tomb for an alleged secret sealed chamber with fibre-optic cables.

We were and will always be a pot that gathers civilisations and a centre for innovation

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai

In the UAE His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai this year led an astonishing dig into an area of Dubai’s desert that uncovered a haul of 10,000 aretefacts dating back to the Iron Age. He perfectly surmised the innovative and pioneering spirit shared between old and new civilisations in the Middle East.

“Over 4,000 years ago, the people who lived in this land had a deep creative spirit and today the people of this country are building the nation’s future for centuries to come,” Sheikh Mohammed said.

This nostalgic yet futuristic practice of preserving the past to unlock the future is perfectly encapsulated by the following archeological discoveries across the world in 2016, starting with the UAE…

Desert excavation

Sarouq Al Hadeed, Dubai

To the untrained eye, the official logo for Dubai Expo 2020 is illustrated by a series of tightly looped petals spiraling into a golden flower. In fact, a 4,000-year-old ring found in the middle of the desert inspired the symbol.

The decision to feature the ring in the logo was made by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, who discovered The Sarouq Al Hadeed site, where the ancient piece of jewellery was found. Sheikh Mohammed says the logo “represents our message to the world that our civilisation has deep roots.”

More than 10,000 artefacts, including seals from different regions, daggers, knives, vases and tools, have been found by archaeologists over the past three years. They date back to the Iron Age and there are plans to excavate further from the site as the findings only cover five per cent of the area.

“We were and will always be a pot that gathers civilisations and a centre for innovation,” Sheikh Mohammed says.

Must Farm archaeology
Must Farm is described as the 'British Pompeii'Image: Chris Radburn/PA

Deep space archeology

Must Farm, Cambridgeshire, UK

“What we’ve been granted at Must Farm is a rare glimpse of a vanished time”, says Bronze and Iron Age archeologist Francis Pryor, who initially made the area famous for his innovative use of large earth-moving machinery to explore Neolithic landscapes in deeply buried zones.

Using this ‘deep space’ archeology in the Cambridgeshire Fens, uncovering an entire prehistoric settlement dating from the late Bronze Age 3,000 years ago is without precedent – a revelatory discovery in Britain, if not Europe. Such is its astonishing scope it has been described as the ‘British Pompeii.’

Typically, large open area excavations happen because the cover soil is shallow and its unusual surface patterns indicate something lying beneath the top soil. In this case however, the finest collection of Bronze Age fabrics and glass ever found were discovered wonderfully intact because they were preserved deep below metres of sediment in the wet fens.

Egypt's Lost Cities archeology
World-renowned archeologist Franck Goddio excavated the underwater siteImage: Christoph Gerigk. © Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation

Underwater excavation

Canopus and Thonis-Heracleion, Egypt

Submerged under the sea for over a thousand years, two lost cities of ancient Egypt were recently discovered, perfectly preserved in all their spectacular glory and this year made available to the public at the British Museum in London.

Vanished beneath the waters of the Mediterranean, the lost cities of Thonis-Heracleion (one of Egypt’s most important commercial trade centres) and Canopus (major centre for worship of the Egyptian Gods) lay at the opening of the Nile.

World-renowned archeologist Franck Goddio and his team of underwater archeologists have excavated the site that is size of Paris off the coast of Alexandria over the past 20 years using the latest technologies to bring up astonishing objects and artworks from the seabed, some weighing several tons.   

Cambodia ruins archeology
Cutting edge airborne laser scanning technology mapped new Cambodian cities

Airborne laser archeology

Cambodia’s Medieval cities

Not far from the ancient temple city of Angkor Wat, airborne lasers have revealed the truth about south-east Asia’s history.

The Australian archeologist Dr Damian Evans and his team used cutting edge airborne laser scanning (ALS) technology to produce the first detailed map of cities between 900 and 1,400 years old concealed under the jungle that would have made up the world’s largest empire in the 12th century.

Lidar (light detection and ranging) is responsible for uncovering the greatest advance in the past 50 or even 100 years in the knowledge of Angkorian civilisation. The technique involved mounting the ALS to a helicopter skid pad and programming them with altitude and airspeed information. The laser beams scanned the earth to produce detailed imagery of the Earth’s surface and a 3D models of a vast cityscape including highways and previously undiscovered temples.

What we’ve been granted at Must Farm is a rare glimpse of a vanished time

Francis Pryor, Bronze and Iron Age archeologist

Aerial thermography

Chinese archeologists explore India

Chinese archeologists are posed to uncover a Bronze Age city in North India from September. 

The team led by Wang Wei, chief of the Archeology Institute at China’s Academy of Social Sciences will first survey the 865-acre site at Rakhigarhi, 90 miles north west of Delhi using drones fitted with remote imaging equipment to provide data-rich 3D maps.

The technique can differentiate between bricks and stone that retain warmth differently from soil. This avoids lengthy ground reconnaissance and excavation to see what is beneath the surface – which is thought to be the largest Harappan site in the world, a city that dwarfs the early civilisations of Egypt, Mesopotamia and China.