In a number of places, places rich in history and therefor rich in latent archaeological information, it is too hard to dig. Either the politics, terrain or the need to budget makes even educated guesswork prohibitive. But now, an Australian archaeologist has found almost 2,000 new sites in Saudia Arabia using a program that takes less than a minute to download: Google Earth.

Archaeologists have been adding web and mobile technologies to their toolkit for a while now. But this discovery is surprising just in the scope of it. And it indicates the possibility that we are verging on a new archaeological golden age.

The University of Western Australia's David Kennedy scanned 770 square miles using the Google Earth program, by-passing the kingdom's security concerns. He identified 1977 possible sites, even, according to New Scientist, asking a non-archaeologist friend in country to drive out to a few and photograph them, determining they were indeed man-made structures.

Of those finds, 1,082 seem to be "pendants," the distinctive tear drop-shaped, stone tombs of ancient Arabia.

He published his account of these finds and of his method in the Journal of Archaeological Sciences.

Since 2007, Google Earth has delivered "2.5 meter resolution imagery taken from the SPOT 5 satellite."

Other archaeological and anthropological finds in the last year that have used new technology include identifying a major Mesoamerican city as it transitioned to empire using GPS and mobile handhelds; mapping another large city in the area using lidar; identifying 2,000 year-old Roman medicines using a database of digitized ancient medical texts; and using Google Earth to identify anthropological site that yielded a heretofore unknown human ancestor.

The notion that Google Earth and other tools will eventually see archaeologists doing all their work from their home offices is just dumb. What it means is that exploratory digs will be much more likely to produce important work since the number of targets is so much higher and more can be known about them prior to finding personnel, time and money to do the unavoidable, hand-on digging that will always be a part of the discipline.

Other sources: A Blog About History