Ancient Syrian Military Fortresses Forming Massive Surveillance Network Discovered With Satellite Images

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An access ramp at Qal'at al-Rahiyya in Syria. University of Lyon

Archaeologists analyzing satellite images have discovered an enormous military network in northern Syria that dates back to the Middle Bronze Age. The 4,000-year-old network was used for surveillance and communication purposes, according to a French language press release from the University of Lyon. It's the first such large-scale system ever discovered in Syria.

The researchers focused on a section of northern Syria on the edge of the Fertile Crescent, measuring a little under 3,000 square miles. The defense network comprises "forts, towers and enclosures," according to the press release. The fortresses were made of uncut stone blocks more than 10 feet in height and width, and placed strategically so that eye contact could be made from any one site to the others. Situated this way, individuals stationed at each fortress could communicate to their counterparts using fire or smoke.

Researchers have been using satellite imagery dating from 1960 through the present day to study more than 1,000 archaeological sites in Syria. The military defense network appears to have been constructed between 2000 B.C. and 1550 B.C., according to the press release. A previous analysis dated ceramic from nearby sites to around the same time period, so this latest research fits neatly into the established history of the region. The network was discovered through a collaboration led by the French National Center for Scientific Research, the University of Lyon and the Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums of Syria. A paper describing the work was published in the French scientific journal Paléorient.

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The Rubba rampart in Syria. University of Lyon

Middle Bronze Age Syria was known for manufacturing and trading ceramics. During this period—the second millennium B.C.—Syrian tribes spread out across the Middle East, and created many large sites that were "fortified employing massive cyclopean stone blocks," according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This isn't the first time satellite imagery has helped identify massive yet previously unrecorded Middle Eastern archaeological features. Researchers used data from drones and spy satellites to analyze thousands of sites in Afghanistan, including some that couldn't be safely accessed in person due to the threat of the Taliban.