back to article Lost cities found beneath sands of Sahara by satellites

Satellite images have revealed the ruins of a long-lost civilisation which existed in what is now the Sahara desert in Roman times and before. Archaeologists hope that the toppling of Libyan dictator Colonel Gadaffi, who has controlled access to the region in modern times, will permit the secrets of the lost cities beneath the …


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  1. MJI Silver badge

    Better check Rub' al Khali as well.

    Before Nate finds something

  2. Tchou

    Mmmm... Islamic countries have a pretty constant track record of suppressing and rewriting pre-islamic history.

    Let's hope for the best.

    1. dogged

      oh, come on

      It's not like every other monotheist state doesn't do exactly the damn same.

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: track record

      Would it be out of place to point out that for the first thousand or so years of its existence, Christian civilisation suppressed and re-wrote pre-Christian history? When the truth eventually came out, it changed the world, and it was Islamic cultures who had preserved the knowledge and who re-educated us.

      Of course, I'm using "us" in the sense of "distant ancestor of mine with whom I share almost nothing in terms of cultural outlook".

      1. Tchou

        Right, but it is a constant even in modern history for Islam.

        Right or wrong, it is like that.

      2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge


        I'm pretty certian that the origins of Islam date from the 5th century AD, so I fail to see how Islamic Cultures could have preserved anything destroyed by the first thousand years of Christianity, when they didn't exist before that time.

        Granted, Islam pretty much led the way for the Renaissance in terms of mathematic knowledge, but it would have been other cultures, such as those in Northern Europe and Greece, who preserved knowledge that would otherwise have been obliterated by Christianity.

        It is probably worth noting Winston Churchill's observation that, "history is written by the victors" and leave it at that. I'm pretty sure any and all ancient historical and cultural accounts were biased when they were written and have been further biased by later translation and re-editing.

        Back to the original poster's point though; there are a number of modern Islamic states that seem to be rather focussed on rewriting history at the moment (Iran springs to mind). This doesn't mean that an Islamic state cannot be secular however, and there are equally examples of this, such as Turkey. It also does not mean that a state has to be Islamic (or indeed governed by the rules of any religion) in order for its leaders to attempt to rewrite history. Cambodia and North Korea are also good examples of this.

        So maybe it is more accurate to assert that it is authoritarian states that rewrite history, whether that authoritarianism is religious or atheistic.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward


          May not be the best example of an enlightened state with regards to history. Making reference to the first 21st century genocide over there will get you prosecuted for 'insulting Turkishness'.

          1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

            @AC 13:52

            Granted, Turkey may not be a particulalrly enlightened state (they are reported to have the lowest level of belief in evolution amongst all the countires surveyed). However, they don't forbid things in the name of Islam. They might forbid things in the name of not being Turkish, but that is not the same thing. Religion has a lot ot answer for, but it does the argument no good to blame religions for things that they are not answerable for!

        2. Subtilior

          The main Christian powers before 1000 AD - Byzantium, the Carolingian Franks, and, to a lesser extent, Anglo-Saxon England - were far more important for the preservation of knowledge that kicked off the Renaissance than any of the Islamic powers. Indeed, the Renaissance was to a great extent kicked off by refugees from Byzantium after it's sackings by the Turks, and, earlier, by the 4th crusade.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

        3. Killraven

          It wasn't exclusive knowledge.

          The ancient knowledge, primarily in science, medicine and mathematics, was well spread throughout what was thought of as the civilized world. The difference is that where Christian lands decried such knowledge and destroyed it wherever they could (see; the library of Alexandria), the Islamic lands preserved and expanded on it.

          Sheesh, it's not like the Christians sent people to the four corners of the globe to destroy it all. They only burned what their followers had access to. The Northern European cultures, weren't all that cultured in the first place, and Greece was rather smack in the midst of all that Christianity of the time.

          1. Ken Hagan Gold badge


            Nitpick: The library of Alexandria was torched by some bloke called Omar who (apocryphally) said that either its contents parroted the Koran and were therefore superfluous or they deviated from it and were therefore heretical.

            The story is almost certainly false, but the destruction was real.

        4. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          "I'm pretty certian that the origins of Islam date from the 5th century AD, so I fail to see how Islamic Cultures could have preserved anything destroyed by the first thousand years of Christianity, when they didn't exist before that time."

          That would depend on how you define "first thousand years of Christianity". Christianity didn't have any influence *at all* until Constantine and in Rome (rather than Constantinople) the old ways held on until the Goths (who were Christian by then) went and trashed the place. In my book, Christendom starts then (453?) and goes on to the sack of Constantinople (1453). Either side of that, there's serious cultural competition.

          Islam dates from 610, being started as a breakaway Christian sect by some chap who disagreed with, amongst other things, the Greek Church's enthusiasm for icons (which he saw as precisely the sort of graven images prohibited by the second Commandment).

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        China and Japan were so much more enlightened, no?

      4. SDF1586

        Islam & Classical learning

        You're partly right about Islam preserving Classical learning but the real truth is that that's ALL it did. It used neither Greek philosophy nor Roman science to make any major advances or improvements within its own culture. When that knowledge came to the West it laid the foundations that ultimately made western civilization the most industrious, the most productive and the most inventive civilization that the world has ever known. Now of course the fruits of those labours have been exported all over the world.

    3. itzman

      should have seen what the Romans and Christians had to say about the Druids too..'human sacrifice'

    4. Thing

      Apart from the ancient history the Rome itself ...

      ... along with the works of Aristotle, Plato, Homer and everything else which they maintained while we were too busy burning it or just getting seven shades of s**t kicked out of us by the vikings.

    5. Hnk0

      Interestingly, in the most fundamentalist Islamic state of all, Saudi Arabia, archaeology/historical research of Islam/Islamic sites is the only one forbidden, anything prior to that is fair game. In fact, the only sites they allowed UNESCO to classify as World Heritage Sites are pre-Islamic, but not Mecca and Medina (and other places).

      See e.g.

    6. Glenn Charles


      So do England and the U.S., unfortunately. In general it's called "maintenance of power".

  3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Profs in disconnected from political realities shocker

    I don't know where the idea comes from that now when the strongman is gone, there will suddenly be safe access.

    Get ready for archaelogists moaning about being blown off dunes / gruesomly drilled by freedom fighters, resurgent Wahabbis now in Lybia's govnmt financed by Saudi Arabia, Al Qaeda franchisees, bandits of various couleur, Duty platoons and Xe operatives looking for a good time. And possibly a drone or two controlled by the the US Peace Lovers International Corporation.

    Also, in before mention of Abdul Alhazred etc.

    1. Steve Renouf

      Ah so, US PLICs...

    2. Richard Wharram


      ...the redundant Al makes that name a bit of a mouthful.

      In before speculation that the fall of Mubarak leads to the discovery of the tomb of Nephren Ka.

  4. AndrueC Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    >In fact, they were highly civilised, living in large-scale fortified settlements

    They might have been highly civilised but it doesn't sound like their neighbours were :)

    Interesting stuff though. It's a period of history I've always found fascinating. Close enough for good evidence to be found..yet too far for significant documentation.

    1. laird cummings

      :: They might have been highly civilised but it doesn't sound like their neighbours were ::

      Of course not - their neighbors were the Roman Empire. If the Romans were *my* neighbors, I'd fortify, too.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's not "their" history and heritage

    Obviously they can teach Libyan schoolchildren whatever they like (just as Africans in the French colonies had to learn about "our ancestors the Gauls") but really it's not "their" history and heritage; it's everyone's, or it belongs to anyone who's interested in it.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      whose history

      Indeed, the present occupants are descended from a wave of Arab conquerors who overthrew the present occupants who were (IIRC) Visigoths, a wave of Northern European conquerors who overthrew the Romans, who had overthrown (and utterly sacked) the previous Phonecian occupants who I imagine were distinct from these Garawotsits.

      We don't really know *where* the Phonecians came from, but the most probable region is the Middle East. The Romans obviously came from Europe. The Visigoths first appear in Northern Europe, but appear to have themselves been fleeing the Huns (*).

      (* If only the Romans had known at the time, eh? "It's OK Caesar. They may look fierce, but actually they are running away. Just not running away from us. The one's we really ought to be afraid of are the ones they are running away *from*.")

      1. Richard Wharram


        Cultural takeovers are not usually associated with genetic takeovers too. Currently Libyans may well be largely descended from these guys even if the culture has been wiped out again and again.

        Or maybe not.

      2. Armando 123

        I thought the Phoenicians were a Semitic people who had spread around (or at least spread their culture around) by advances in sailing and the resulting wealth they created.

        Or has something else come to light in the 15+ years since I read that?

      3. drengur

        Indeed, the visigoths were essentially refugees within Roman borders... (it surprises me they haven't been brought up regarding the offshore processing debate in Australia.... "It's for your own good... do you WANT to be sacked and pillaged?")

        They have mapped much of Egypt using the same tech, great stuff but ruins generations of Archaeologists who dream of stumbling across some forgotten tomb.

        As for different religions supressing the past, it's really been a theme since ancient egypt, so the argument is completely moot. Tutenkhamun changed his name from Tutankhaten as part of his restoration of the old gods after his father had previously banned them all apart from his single god Aten.

      4. fch

        Not the visigoths ...

        .. but rather the Vandals were the temporary occupiers of what at the time of their invasion was the roman province of Africa. They in turn were thrown out by the Byzantines (Greeks / eastern Romans) a hundred years before the Arabs appeared.

        And all that time, there were those people who lived "inland". With various degrees of ruling / meddling by whoever ruled the mediterranean coast, and with little interest in identifying themselves with a "state". Apologies for using the term "Berber" as the origin of the name is not entirely clear but often seen in the Latin "barbarian".

        Anyway, it must be intriguing to historians / archeaologists that much more is known about the history of the "veneer" (mediterranean coast) rather than that of the significantly larger area inland.

    2. Helena Handcart

      National identity

      Learning about your heritage doesn't mean tracing your biological ancestors back 1800 years, it means learning about and _identifying_ with the country you now call home. Its what gives any people a sense of identity.

      Take modern druids, for example. They regularly hang around Stonehenge claiming its part of their heritage, when really it was older then than the "original" druids (however you may define them) are to us. Doubtless the monument has been repurposed numerous times by all sorts of groups claiming its their heritage. Does it make it any less valid? If Stonehenge is not valid heritage to the modern druids, then surely all monuments and sites aren't really part of our heritage.

      I can claim some right to the heritage of this country, and feel proud about all those cool monuments dotted around the country. But I don't claim anything from modern Libya's past as my cultural heritage, even though the archaeologist in me is dying to get out there and have a looksee up close...

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        @Helena Handcart

        Yup, the fact that modern 'druids' are nothing of the sort makes their claims invalid (in my eyes at least). Just because they can make some shit up about how Stonehenge is special for them shouldn't give them any greater claim over it than anyone else. Quite apart from the fact that the ancient druids were based on and venerated the isle of Anglesey, which is quite some distance from Salisbury Plain...

  6. Anonymous Coward

    They can tell all this from that satellite picture?

    I've watched a few history programs recently where they seem to have made some real wild leaps in guessing when and where things seem to have come from.

    I struggle to identify my car from Google Maps, and I know exactly what it looks like....

    Guess that's why I'm not a historian.

    1. CowardlyAndrew

      Big lols if it turns out to be a WWII supply base hidden in desert and now under the sand.

    2. Tim #3

      But surely you can see how it is all designed for ceremonial use

    3. Alien8n

      Not really, it's pattern recognition more than anything else. When I look on google maps I may not be able to tell which car is which, but it's pretty obvious that they're cars. Same here, sand looks like sand and any regular shapes are invariably archeological features. Wasn't that long ago an entire roman villa was found in England using google maps that no one knew anything about. Turned out to be a huge palace in an area that shouldn't have even been settled by romans. It's amazing how much archeology is actually visible from above, even centuries after it's been covered by dirt and grass. How else am I supposed to know where to park the spaceship :)

    4. gonerogue

      It's called remote sensing...

      The process they probably used is remote sensing, which can be used to detect composition of buried material and things otherwise not discernible to the naked eye. Here's a great primer on what remote sensing is about and how it's applied:

      1. Alien8n

        Remote Sensing?

        Who else immediately thought of "The Men Who Stare At Goats"?

  7. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Interesting find

    I for one had never heard of the Garamantes culture. It does sound like someone wants to enhance the idea of a Libyan cultural identity that transcends tribal differences. Might not be the worst thing to try, but let's hope that political aim does not bury the science, which might find that, rather than being a single, unified culture, the Garamantes were a loose association of tribes, who bickered as much as current tribes (or the Gauls for that matter).

    Fingers crossed.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A... chance for the Libyan people to engage, allright

    rotfl, 99.9% of the "Libyan people" don't give a flying monkey (...), either now or for a long time to come. As to the rest, well, I'm pretty sure they would love to engage, particularly with art dealers around the world who can't wait to see all that buried stuff "made available". All within the framework of, uhm.... local and international laws and regulations, of course.

  9. Jemma

    Why are people surprised?

    It constantly amazes me that people seem to be of the opinion that having a bloody great empire just up the road (in this case the Acheamenids (sp?) shouldnt have an effect on the people next door. We know that there were British local tribes in the period before the Roman Conquest that were building their settlements on a grid style roadway system - and that many of the well off British tribes and their leaders not only traded with the Romans but visited their various cities (some making it as far as Rome itself, not a minor feat when the highlight of road transport was a horse).

    Its not so much the current Islamics bashing the Pre-Islamic civilisations - 'Christian' archeo's are just as guilty for making monumental mistakes or deliberately fudging the evidence (even when it concurs with the bible texts, which at least in the Old Testament which current evidence seems to indicate are alot more 'true' than was formerly thought)

    As to the previous commentator who said 'not enough written evidence' - there is alot, its just a matter of how you look at it. From one point of view you can take Troy as a myth and all the stories that come from that as stories and nothing else. True, the bit about the slapper called Helen is probably not entirely true (its more likely that the collapse of the Hittite empire at the end of Bronze age IIB/C or so, of which Troy was a satellite city state gave the Greeks the excuse to put the boot in), but there is evidence for Mopsus's story - among others - including Danaus doing a runner in the days after Troy (Wilusa) fell. It wasnt straight after - maybe a generation or so according to the latest research (Troy VII period) but there is good evidence it happened. Then theres the bit where biblical Jericho had walls with earthquake protection built in (the part with the bloke playing Jazz was probably a later addition) - it just takes watching the local animals to know when a big quake is coming... and the rest is Josh: Fall of Jericho... with a lass called Rahab playing the part of the separatist Sangheili...

    As to our great friends the Romans, theres also fairly good evidence that they rose from the core of the fleeing Trojans, including Troy style tombs dated to the early Roman period. Even Homer admits that the Trojans at the time of the Iliad were talented fighters, talk about comeback! Not to mention the proto Hoplite form of warfare that would have been prevalent at the time of Troy, bears a interesting resemblance to the Testudo & other common Roman tactics

    The mistake I think people make is that we assume that because one group had a particular skill or technology, that they were alone in possessing it. The Romans & Greeks & Egyptians had writing, all well and good, but we have no way of telling, bar going back and asking the Romans, if various groups they overran and absorbed had it too, simply because the Romans steamrollered over them. Winners write the histories.

    PS: as to it 'not being their history' there is good genetic evidence, especially in the far and middle east, of long occupations by the persons currently ensconced there. For example, the Iranians, Afghanistanis and kazakhs all have Persian descent, point of fact the -stan suffix comes from the old Persian word for 'country' - they share many characteristics, including physical appearance and languages, and are well known to be the military equivalant of 'bottle coveys' - in other words they wont stop fighting even when they should, and you better not turn your back on whats left afterwards. Hence them giving the British Empire a good kicking twice (and it would have been a 3rd time if we hadnt cheated, this time is number 4 by the way), the Russians twice, The Macedonians only managed it because they fought a couple of battles and then legged it. The mobile mixture of different people in different lands is partly due to Colonialism, partly due to the various violent diasporas and partly due to economic factors...

    Oh, and by the way, im part Saxon, English (which itself is a corruption of East Angles), Irish, Scandinavian, and French (sigh, my family has alot of connections with the Hugenot french diaspora). Thats at least 1500 years of 'British' history - and I am still here... in the land of my forfathir.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      "The Romans & Greeks & Egyptians had writing, all well and good, but we have no way of telling, bar going back and asking the Romans, if various groups they overran and absorbed had it too, simply because the Romans steamrollered over them."

      Most of what we know about the language (spoken and written) of the Etruscans is from their gravestones. So not quite "no way", but certainly "limited means".

  10. hplasm

    Aha! The resting place

    of Conan T Barbarian.

    1. NogginTheNog

      Not his much less adventurous nephew then?

      Colin The Librarian?

  11. Havin_it
    Thumb Up

    Almost everyone commenting seems to be looking at this in purely political terms (which does fit the tone of the article, I suppose). Let's not ignore that this could also be major source of investment: UNESCO might well be interested for one, and if the site is photogenic and can be made accessible enough, it could also be a tourist draw. These considerations may seem a bit trivial for an oil-rich nation, but there's no harm in broadening a country's cultural landscape in the meantime, and the oil will run out eventually...

  12. zaralockwood
    Thumb Up

    cool I wanna go out there and discover an ancient city full of treasure too...

  13. Cunningly Linguistic

    Are we sure...

    ...that it isn't the actual storage area of the legendary Weapons of Mass Destruction that Bliar and Bu$h knew were hidden round here somewhere?

  14. Rick Brasche

    the best part of all this? and the worst?

    the best and worst part of all this: that military intel has had access to this information for years. The technology that was developed to locate and identify bunkers and bases is the same technology that found this settlement, as well as expanding the scope of finds in South American jungles and even adding to the Henges of Europe. Without the need to look for camoflaged military threat facilities, we would not yet have this capability to explore our past.

    That being said, scans would have been made of Libyan territory ever since the technology was developed, looking for places where KaWacki would be brewing up stuff from the North Korean materials we'd intercepted a few years ago.

    Some intel grognard analyzed these images and correctly interpreted them as "not a threat". Heh, it's possible it was even these same files, now released as militarily insignificant.

    Military-Industrial Complex wants credit where it's due. War, Huh! what is it good for? Regime changes and discovering ancient civilizaions!

  15. Armando 123

    Ancient advanced cities under the desert?!

    Someone tell Master Drogan!

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You can only have it one way or the other...

    Gadaffi was either denying access to investigators and trying to suppress the existence of this civilisation...


    they were mounting an expedition to the ruins prior to the world and his dog bombing the hell out of the country.

    Pick One.

    1. drengur

      Not quite, they have used the same in Egypt, a country that has been picked over for the last few centuries fairly thoroughly. and found immense amounts of unknown sites.

  17. Robinson Lloyd

    Libya: Rebellion or Invasion ?

    ".........but was forced to evacuate when the rebellion against the Colonel broke out."

    It could very well be that some future Historian presently a student at Beijing University will instead

    refer to the above referenced time frame as ".....evacuate at the initiation of the NATO led invasion

    utilizing 'Al Qaeda' assets."

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