Saudi Arabia
© Arab News, Saudi ArabiaA screenshot of Saudi Arabia as seen from Google Maps.

Jeddah: Nearly 2,000 archaeological sites have been discovered east of Jeddah by an Australian archaeologist. Bizarrely, professor David Kennedy, from the University of Western Australia, has never set foot in the Kingdom. He discovered the sites from the comfort of his office in Perth, Western Australia, using Google Earth on his computer.

Altogether, Kennedy has identified 1,977 possible sites by looking at satellite images of a 1,240-square km area east of Jeddah. The find has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. It includes what he thinks are 1,082 ancient stone tombs or "pendants," so called because they are shaped like tear drops.

The professor, who specializes in archaeology of the Roman Empire in the Middle East and aerial archaeology, has worked mainly in Jordan. By comparing the Jeddah structures with others he has seen there, he thinks they may be 9,000 years old.

But without visiting the area, that cannot be verified.

"Just from Google Earth it's impossible to know whether we have found a Bedouin structure that was made 150 years ago or 10,000 years ago," he is quoted as telling the London-based New Scientist magazine.

However, he knows that they are manmade rather than natural sites. Confirmation came when he asked a non archaeologist friend in the Kingdom to go and photograph two of the sites.

Although archaeology is growing in Saudi Arabia, for the aerial archaeologist, it is "not the easiest country to break into," Kennedy is quoted as saying.

But in the five years it has been available, Google Earth, he says, has opened up the Kingdom massively and has made a tremendous difference.

"Initial investigations already suggest large parts of the country are immensely rich in archaeological remains and most of those identified are certainly pre-Islamic and probably several thousand years old," he wrote in his article in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Preliminary investigations using Google Earth have yielded remarkable results elsewhere. Afghanistan is still not the safest place for archaeologists, but in 2008, thanks to the satellite images, Australian archaeologists were able from the relative safety of Melbourne to identify 463 hitherto unknown sites in the Registan area between Helmand and Kandahar provinces.