Charax Spasinou has visible remains spread over five square kilometres, and exploring such an unusually large site poses particular problems. Our solution was to trial photogrammetry using a small aerial drone.
Flying in a grid pattern controlled by the on-board gps, the drone takes a series of overlapping vertical images. These are then compiled into a mosaic and then turned into a digital model by specialist software. By this means we will be able to create an elevation model of the entire city. Drone photography can map the modern-day surface of Charax Spasinou, but we also need to find out what is left under the ground. For that we are undertaking a magnetometer survey, following a trial in 2016 that demonstrated that this technique would give satisfactory results.
In our first test, entire city blocks were revealed, densely packed with buildings. The regular grid is a feature of Hellenistic towns, so we have probably found the preserved original layout of Alexander’s city! The exceptionally large individual buildings have an architectural plan typical of the later Arsacid period. To the south there showed up an old river bed, which cut into buildings, reminding of the ever-present danger of flooding that the city faced.
We checked the results of this preliminary magnetometer survey through selective excavation, confirming that substantial buildings are still present. Our work at Charax Spasinou is in its infancy, but these first results show the enormous potential of the site. The kingdom of Characene is about to emerge from the shadows.