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Scientists Use Lasers To Map Ancient City In Jordan

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

New technology is offering a better look at an ancient city. NPR's Merrit Kennedy reports on the effort to understand the layout of a city in Jordan before it vanishes.

MERRIT KENNEDY, BYLINE: The ancient city of Jerash is world famous and one of the most popular tourist sites in Jordan. It has long streets lined with Greco-Roman columns, two amphitheaters, a hippodrome and temples and churches.

DAVID STOTT: Fantastic monumental architecture that's still largely preserved.

KENNEDY: Archaeologist David Stott from Aarhus University in Denmark was one of the researchers that used laser pulses from an aircraft to create a precise 3-D map of the site. They published it in the journal PNAS on Monday. The map reveals new clues about the way that the ancient people transported water from nearby rivers and springs.

STOTT: A complex and sophisticated system of aqueducts and irrigation channels that run into the city and out of the city.

KENNEDY: The ancient city is under threat from the modern city of Jerash. It has been growing and has in places built over the ancient parts. To understand what has been lost, the researchers used a trove of historic photos of the site dating back a century and compared it to the new data.

STOTT: It's very clear from the imagery when you look at the photographs just how quickly the city has been growing.

KENNEDY: Stott says that he hopes by understanding what has been lost, it'll be easier to preserve what still stands. Merrit Kennedy, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.