PlanetScope image of Mașloc, Romania where this archeology site was located © 2020, Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Dr. Joe Mascaro is Planet's Director of Science Programs

Satellite Imagery Provides a Glimpse into Medieval Times


A new study has successfully combined Planet imagery with information processing algorithms in order to study and reconstruct medieval archaeological sites without causing any damage to these historical locations. Using a synthesis of remote sensing and geoinformatics, an archeological exploration has uncovered the layout of a medieval village located at Șanțul Turcilor, near Mașloc, Romania. This study documents medieval village urban planning within Eastern Europe through geoscientific methods and sets the stage for future remote sensing based archeology.

The researchers were able to access Planet’s medium resolution PlanetScope imagery through our Education and Research Program. Launched in 2017, this program offers university researchers, academics, and scientists the opportunity to utilize our unique imagery in order to monitor and study field sites with daily satellite imagery.

Fusion of satellite imagery delineates the boundaries of the medieval village which exists along a central axis running from the northeast to the southwest. Image credit: Hegyi et al.

Of all the numerous medieval settlements identified in the Banat region, present-day Western Romania, the Mașloc site easily stands out due to its exceptional preservation as well as the complexity of its structures. While most archaeological discoveries require on-site exploration, excavation and efforts, the technique in this study is unique precisely because it is completely noninvasive and nondestructive. Using this innovative method of investigation, researchers successfully managed to map out the village and its morphology without any archaeological excavation whatsoever. Remote sensing enabled the historical site to be studied and examined without compromising its structural integrity.

Building on pre-existing geophysical survey research, PlanetScope satellite images were used as a base to calculate a number of vegetation indices such as NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index), DVI (Difference Vegetation Index) and SR (Simple Vegetation Ratio) among others. While the existence of the site was already known, researchers were able to integrate vegetation indices with geophysical techniques in order to delineate the boundaries of Șanțul Turcilo, estimating the entire area of the village to be 114,268 m2. Researchers also merged the resolutions of multiple Planet images in order to generate detailed representations of the spectral characteristics of targeted locations. 

Results of a few of the numerous algorithms run on PlanetScope imagery where the yellow arrows indicate the features shown in each image. Image credit: Hegyi et al.

This study shows that satellite remote sensing can be a crucial asset in further archeological investigations. Layouts of such medieval villages and other archeological sites can be outlined using soil and vegetation indices detected by unobtrusive satellite imagery. Researchers were even able to create an artistic rendering of what the village may have looked like, revealing strict topographical rules where each house was aligned to the main street and had its own delimited plot at the back for agricultural purposes. Essentially, advancing space technology like our Dove satellites can give us never-before seen insights into our historical civilizations and ways of life. Planet data is not only monitoring the Earth’s day-to-day changes, but is also helping us look into our past as well.

To learn more about how Planet imagery can be used for academic research, check out our Education and Research program.