Irrigation played a pivotal role in Assyrian civilization (900-600 BC) in today’s Northern Iraq. The most ambitious canal network of over one hundred kilometers was constructed by Sennacherib, ruler of the Assyrian Empire from 704-681 BC, and was centered on the imperial capital at Nineveh (modern-day Mosul).
The canals had two functions: they brought water to dry areas for subsistence farming, and they acted as symbols of power while irrigating private orchards and gardens of the Assyrian elite.
CORONA satellite imagery allows archaeologists to map the ancient paths of these canals in order to understand their functions in Assyrian society. Due to ethnic tensions, security concerns, and the sheer scale of the canal system, ground surveys of this system have been nearly impossible for decades. Moreover, because CORONA images were taken in the 1960s and 1970s, they allow archaeologists to see features that have since been erased from the modern landscape by urban development.