Google continues to allow us to virtually go where no archaeologist has gone before. The latest finds, in the Arabian peninsula, are of spectacular stone structures that rival the Nazca lines of southern Peru in their intricacy.
The ruins are known to local Bedouin groups as "the works of the old men", and were first spotted from the air in 1927 by Percy Maitland, a lieutenant in the British Royal Air Force. But their full extent became apparent only when David Kennedy at the University of Western Australia, Perth, clicked onto Google Earth.
Kennedy says that many countries in the Middle East will not provide aerial photographs or permit flights for archaeological research, so Google Earth provides the only way to analyse the region.
Earlier this year, he identified almost 2000 potential archaeological sites in Saudi Arabia from his office chair using Google Earth's satellite images. Expanding his virtual exploration to cover the entire Arabian peninsula he has now found over 2000 "kites" – stone structures with a roughly circular head and tails hundreds of metres long. Thought to be animal traps, the tails may have funnelled in gazelle and oryx, leaving them stuck in the head.
Wheels between 20 and 70 metres across, thought to have a spiritual purpose, pepper the desert too. Similar structures in more accessible Yemen are around 9000 years old, says Kennedy.
David Thomas at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, is also an armchair archaeologist. In 2008, he used Google Earth to find 463 potential sites in the Registan desert of Afghanistan. "Google Earth has a policy of no censorship, so you can get access everywhere," he says.
Zukerman, Wendy. 2011. "Google Earth reveals Nazca-like structures in Arabia ". New Scientist. Posted: September 20, 2011. Available online: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20941-google-earth-reveals-nazcalike-structures-in-arabia.html