By Ken Dark
The Sea of Galilee Project is an archaeological analysis of the Roman-period and Byzantine landscape surrounding the Sea of Galilee. It involves both new survey and new analysis of data derived from earlier work by other scholars. The Project has been supported by the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) through two grants.
The first of these provided funding towards fieldwalking in the Ginosar Valley on the western side of the ‘Sea’ in 2012, on which an interim report appeared in the Palestine Exploration Quarterly (PEQ) in 2013. The second grant, the subject of this note, funded the use of satellite imagery to seek new evidence of settlement location and landscape organization dating to the Roman or Byzantine periods around the ‘Sea’. Whereas fieldwalking produced surprisingly extensive evidence for Roman-period and Byzantine activity, satellite imagery has yielded disappointingly few new data.
A field-by-field search of the area around the lake-edge using satellite imagery revealed two main categories of features on the west and north of the ‘Sea’: pre-modern water-courses (of natural origin), and undated relict field boundaries (mostly linear strips and rectilinear enclosures, perhaps for olive-groves). However, there are no similar features to the east of the ‘Sea’, which may be explained by the relative proximity of high hills to the shore, allowing little room for agriculture. There is no evidence of unknown occupation areas on any of the satellite images examined so far.
That is, both conventional fieldwalking by this project in 2012 and surface surveys previously conducted by other scholars, have seemingly been far more effective as means of identifying the Roman-period and Byzantine settlement-patterns than using satellite images. This raises interesting methodological questions about the limitations of satellite archaeology overall. While a useful tool, details of topography, present landscape-use and geoarchaeological considerations may all limit its effectiveness. It also raises questions about landscape organization around the ‘Sea’: were there really no more Roman-period and Byzantine settlements than those already recognised?