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‘Lost city’ revealed in South Africa with the help of laser technology

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South African lost city found

What researchers once thought were a few scattered South-African farms turned out to be something different; only parts of a vast lost city.

Archaeologists in South Africa is located on the grounds of a centuries-old ‘lost city’ with the help of advanced laser technology.

Local landowners known about the ruins of the Suikerbosrand near Johannesburg for generations, according to Karim Sadr, a professor at the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand. “Archaeologists of my University dug some of the farms in the 1970’s and 1980’s,” he told Fox News, via e-mail. “But no one ever saw the ruins something more than scattered farms, a few villages scattered here and there.”

Sadr, who has visited the area several times in the past three decades, explained that he used LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology to reveal the city’s secrets. The in-depth aerial photos tell a fascinating story of the archaeological site, known as ‘SKBR.’

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“It is only when I am in the possession of the LiDAR images for roughly 20 square kilometres (7.72 square miles) of the western foothills and had been examined in the smallest detail that I began to see that the aspects of the built environment that is largely invisible from the ground and the air on the pictures, because of the vegetation,” he said. A host of stone structures visible on the images.

Photo of the SKBR (Karim Sadr)

LiDAR uses a laser to measure distances to the surface of the Earth, and can prove very valuable to study what is hidden in areas with dense vegetation. LiDAR is also used extensively in other applications, including autonomous cars, which makes it possible for vehicles to have a continuous 360 degree view.

Sadr in command of a LiDAR-aerial photography of the first 10 square kilometres in late 2014, and the rest of the following year. “It was only in 2016, after poring over all the detailed images that I eventually realized that the farms do not have a scatter of villages, but parts of an entity; a city, in place of a dispersion of farms,” he told Fox News.

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The Conversation reports that the city was occupied by the speakers of the Tswana language from the 15th century until about 200 years ago. Other Tswana towns were known in the region, but not in that specific area. The Tswana city-states collapsed as a result of the beginning of the 19th century, civil war, according to The Conversation.

Lidar images of the SKBR (Karim Sadr)

“It is important, because we don’t know that there was a Tswana town in the far east of the group that have already been visited by European travellers in the beginning of the 19th century, so we have expanded the scope of this archaeological culture and the city-states,” said Sadr.

SKBR covers an area of about 6.2 km from north to south and it was about 1.2 miles (2 km wide. “I have counted about 800 farms in this area and there are probably more, but it is difficult to say how many people occupy the city at any time, because not all farms would be occupied simultaneously and some may have contained many more people than others,” Sadr said. “I think the town never more than 10,000 people at a given time, but that is only an estimate.”

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While more LiDAR coverage of the SKBR is planned, archaeologists have been engaged to examine the site up close. “LiDAR can not show everything and a lot of the parts of the city should be examined on the ground from up close,” said Sadr, to note that this research may form the basis of the students ‘ theses. “Ultimately, we want to dig up some parts of the site, and since the deposits are generally not deep, not too much of the earth be moved.”

“Then SKBR, there are also questions about the spatial boundaries of this city-state, the borders, the outpost, neighbors, external trade connections and such that need to be answered,” he added. “And finally, the big question is why the Tswana decision to establish an urban population of about a quarter of a millennium ago?”

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

 

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