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.

Basis of the Project

Recently, scholars in the humanities and geological sciences at the University of Charleston, S. C., began a collaboration to create a publicly accessible geographical information system (GIS) of Western Thebes that combines geographical, geological, and Egyptological data. The result is the On-line Geographical Information System for the Theban Necropolis (OLGIS-TN) .1 With this tool, scholars can research the Theban necropolis, query the integrated database, and actively manipulate the geographical data to reveal new information.

The basis of the GIS is a satellite photo-map to which is added archaeological and historical information on each of the private tombs. The map is based on ultra-high resolution satellite photographs of the necropolis generated by the new QuickBird satellite, owned by Digital Globe Corp. In the visible light spectra, the color photographs yield a ground resolution of 1.4 meters, while panchromatic (black and white) images yield a remarkable 62-centimeter resolution.2 With this technology, and using earlier Theban maps as a guide, project investigators began mapping tombs on the satellite map through a process of geo-referencing. These earlier Theban maps include those of Baraize (1904), Schweinfurth (1909), Survey of Egypt (1924), and the more recent plans of Kampp (1996). 3 They also began to geo-reference the old maps to the satellite photo. In this manner, entire map-sheets are overlaid on to the satellite map and linked together for comparative purposes and to locate tombs previously mapped but now lost.

The project began the mapping effort with the tombs on and about the hill of Sheikh abd el-Qurnah, including the Upper and Lower Enclosures, the plain below, and el-Khokha. In a preliminary projection, 508 tombs and burials were located and plotted in the GIS, and their historical data was input into the system. Work on this preiminary map has since shifted to other areas of Sheikh Abd el-Qurnah and will continue until the entire necropolis of private tombs is completely mapped and documented in the GIS.

One consequence of the project is that OLGIS-TN freely provides to any West Bank expedition hi-resolution satellite images of its concession area, and has advised expeditions outside the region on how to procure their own satellite resources.


1See abstract of paper, P. A. Piccione, A. K. Fronabarger and N. S. Levine, "The On-line Geographical Information System for the Theban Necropolis: http://www.cofc.edu/olgis/," ARCE Annual Meeting, Tucson, April 2004.

2A 62-centimeter ground resolution means that each individual pixel of the digital photograph records an area on the earth as small as 62 cm. x 62 cm. The result is an image fine enough often to see individual persons walking on the ground (image enlarged).

3É. Baraize, Plan des nécropoles thébaines, Service des Antiquités de l'Égypte (Cairo: General Survey Printing Office, 1904-1913); G. Schweinfurth, Karte der westlichen Umgebung von Luksor und Karnak (Theben) (Berlin: Reimer, 1909); Survey of Egypt, The Theban Necropolis, map series 1:1,000 (Cairo: Government Press, 1921, rev. 1924); F. Kampp, Die Thebanische Nekropole. Zum Wandel des Grabgedankens von der XVIII. bis zur XX. Dynastie. Theben 13 (Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1996).


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