Characterizing Historical Macro-Material Utilizing Satellite Imagery, Remote Sensing and GIS


Pyramids, palaces, great walls, entire ancient cities, and even Milwaukee’s Mitchell Park botanical domes…some people prefer their objects of material culture to be colossal! Numerous macro-material objects of historical interest can be observed utilizing satellite imagery and remote sensing. Many large geographic features, such as river areas and mountains have not changed greatly over time. Much in history can be illustrated and analyzed using satellite images, especially if one delves deeper than a mere visual sweep.

Fortunately, there has recently been a copious avalanche of freely-available satellite imagery by the National Aeronautics Space Administration, European Space Agency, Google and other parties. There is also an abundance of free tools and techniques that can greatly enhance the ability to employ such imagery to characterize large historical objects. There is even additional remote sensing data that allows historians to peer beneath the Earth’s surface down into the secrets of covered ruins. The digital historian merely peers: no digging is required!

Satellite Images

  • The nature off of satellite images
  • Types and components of satellite images and remote sensing data
  • Specifications and limitations.


  • Sources of free satellite imagery from government sources (Landsat, Sentinel, EOSDIS) and private sources (Google, Planet).
  • Approaches to obtain proprietary imagery for free
  • NASA Earthdata
  • Earthdata Human Dimensions
  • Human Dimensions data
  • Earth Data visualization tool
  • Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) site


Easy-to-use, high-level tools to use and manipulate satellite imagery:

Image Analysis

Advanced image analysis and manipulation tools will be briefly introduced, such as Python image libraries, SNAP, HDF and TNTmips


Finally, Geographical Information System (GIS) platforms will be explored. Open-source QGIS will be demonstrated.

Cloud-based software, such as QGIS cloud, and cloud-based Map Editor will also be demonstrated.


Try out some of the platforms and tools in the workshop and make their own amazing discoveries. Participants will benefit from bringing their own laptop (ideally with a spreadsheet program installed and working wireless connectivity), but there will be activities that do not require technology.

Bingham Copper Mine

Bingham Canyon, Copper Mine, Utah, USA,-112.1425017,9109m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x875299fbf94e3949:0xc450bdb3d868069f!8m2!3d40.5221684!4d-112.1493862

Silk Road Irrigation Network

Ancient China: Satellite and drone imagery of prehistoric Silk Road corridor reveals long-lost irrigation network.

Historical Map Collection