FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE February 5, 1992 Lost City of Ubar Discovered Shuttle Imaging Radar
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE February 5, 1992
Lost City of Ubar Discovered
Shuttle Imaging Radar and other spaceborne images of
the Arabian desert, produced utilizing NASA Jet Propulsion
Laboratory technology and expertise, played a key role in the
recent discovery of a lost city on the edge of the Empty Quarter
in southern Oman.
A team of scientists and archaeologists from the United
States, Britain and Oman have discovered the site of the
legendary lost city of Ubar, a major hub for trading frankincense
which dates back to the year 3000 B.C.
The location of the ancient city has been lost for
centuries in the drifting desert sand. The use of spaceborne
radar, a device that can penetrate the dry sand, and enhanced
satellite images allowed scientists to detect tracks of caravan
routes leading to the city.
"I was surprised to find that we were able to readily
detect ancient tracks in the enhanced shuttle radar and satellite
images," said Dr. Ronald Blom, a JPL geologist specializing in
"One can easily separate many modern and ancient tracks
on the computer enhanced images because older tracks often go
directly under very large sand dunes. We could never have
surveyed the vast area where Ubar may have been, nor could we be
confident of its location without the advantage of computer
enhanced images from space," Blom continued.
Analysis of the images was used to direct ground
reconnaissance expeditions throughout the region in the summer of
1990 and the fall of 1991. The result of this work led the
expedition to the site of a remote well on the edge of the Empty
There, the explorers uncovered the remains of towers,
rooms and other artifacts that appear to date back to before 2000
B.C. The great variety of artifacts discovered at the site
demonstrates that it was an important trading center linked by
extensive trade routes to Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean.
JPL's involvement in the search for the lost city of
Ubar dates to 1981. Nicholas Clapp, a Los Angeles documentary
film maker, contacted the Laboratory with the idea of using the
Shuttle Imaging Radar to look beneath the sand of the southern
In 1984, the shuttle Challenger made two passes over an
unmapped region of southern Oman and studied the area with
Shuttle Imaging Radar B (SIR-B).
Since then, Dr. Charles Elachi, JPL assistant
laboratory director of the Office of Space Science and
Instruments, Dr. Robert Crippen, a JPL research geologist, and
Dr. Ronald Blom have continued looking for Ubar from space using
radar images taken from the shuttle and other images taken from
the U.S. Landsat 5, the French SPOT satellite and the shuttle-
borne large format camera.
Other members of the expedition include Nicholas Clapp,
a Los Angeles based documentary film producer; George R. Hedges,
a Los Angeles attorney; Dr. Juris Zarins, an archeologist with
extensive experience in Arabia; and Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the
famed Arctic explorer.
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