Satellite Survey of Western Thebes
A Differential GPS Mapping Project of the
Private Tombs of Sheikh Abd el-Qurnah
October 2005 - June 2006
Data Collection and Field Investigation: Peter A. Piccione, Ph. D.
Lab Investigation: Norman S. Levine, Ph. D.

Theban Necropolis Mapping Technologies

Despite the long history of modern research in Western Thebes beginning in the late eighteenth century, and the number of maps and plans that scholars have generated, much uncertainty still exists about the locations and dispositions of many Theban tombs. Older maps have become progressively obsolete as many new private tombs and burials have been discovered, and many older tombs, once known, have become lost, covered up again over time–resulting from the growth of modern villages and the careless piling of spoil heaps from subsequent archaeological clearances. In addition, no one system exists of cataloging and numbering all the private tombs in a single numerical sequence. The well-known Theban Tomb series of numbers accounts for less than one-third of the known private tombs. Many other tombs are still unnumbered, or they have only temporary and idiosyncratic field numbers assigned by different scholars and institutions; many of these unnumbered burials were known only by the names of their excavator or some nearby feature or modern house now removed. Problems compound when they become subsequently lost. Still other tombs have been assigned multiple numbers over time. Therefore, it can be confusing or difficult to identify certain tombs, especially in older maps.

Finally, older ground-based analog techniques of line-of-sight surveying and mapping have been overtaken in recent years by newer and more accurate airborne and satellite-based digital mapping systems. Aerial and satellite photography of ultra-high resolution and in various spectra (visible light, radar, microwave, infra-red, etc.) can now be employed to create maps of such scope and precision as to reveal geographical distributions and associations among the monuments, ecological relationships that were previously unknown, and even new monuments still under the sand. Furthermore, by entering this mapping data into a GIS database and adding historical, archaeological and geological information, we can discover new socio-historical information and knowledge. In the case of the Theban necropolis, a satellite map and GIS database could explain how the site developed and evolved over time. It could reveal the extent of the Egyptians' knowledge of geology and geological considerations in hewing and mining tombs. Significantly, it could identify specific patterns in the locations and elevations of tombs from one period to another according to a variety of physical and historical criteria, including the social rank of the tombs' owners or even the tombs' physical relationships to other monuments and phenomena in the area.

© 2005-2006. Peter A. Piccione. All rights reserved.