When 21st century meets archaeology, the results are often breathtaking. A perfect example is the case in South Africa, where LIDAR, a state-of-the-art laser technology, helped uncover the incredible remains of a lost city on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
The remains of stone houses have been lying around there for years in the town of Kweneng. Covered by vegetation however, the full extent of the ruins could not be seen. With the advent of LIDAR, a remote sensing technique, a precise relief map was established.
To see the invisible
By using the instrument in Keweneng, archaeologists were able to reveal the invisible. Ignoring the vegetation, LIDAR allowed for the discovery of vestigial structures, no less than 800 houses, which could have certainly housed at least 12,000 inhabitants. The few visible stones were but a mere tip of the archaeological “iceberg”.
More than just a modest town, archaeologists are convinced it was a true metropolis discovered in Kweneng. An unprecedented discovery owed entirely to developments in technology, senior archaeologist Fern Imbali Sixwnha of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg had this to say; “This fills an immense historical gap, especially for southern Africa, because we know that its colonial history [is not recorded] in any writing. We are now starting to bridge these gaps using LIDAR technology.” And the “trench” of Kweneng was anything but insignificant to say the least.
A prosperous metropolis
The LIDAR surveys revealed that the lost metropolis extended for over 20 square kilometres. According to archaeologists, Kweneng flourished between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries when it saw a golden age as a rich, prosperous and fertile city.
As proof of its prosperity, the remains of two gigantic enclosure were detected, which were about 10,000 square metres. It contained thousands of heads of cattle according to archaeologists.
A troubled end highlighted by LIDAR
The golden age however came to an end. It involved disturbances in social order which led to the desertion of Kweneng - which became a city lost in time whose existence has only now been revealed thanks to the magic of laser technology.
“One of the most enlightening [...] facts is that [LIDAR] has given us a broader idea of the people of southern Africa, who they were and what kind of activities they were doing,” concludes Fern Ombali Sixwanha. A meeting of archaeology and technology shining resolutely bright!
Check out the video above to see more of the extraordinary lost city of Kweneng for yourself!