The Middle Eastern landscape contains the imprint of thousands of years of human activity and continues to shape people's lives every single day. It bears witness to the rise of the first agricultural villages, the first cities, and the first empires. But it also contains important traces of the common activities undertaken by people in the past and the present that have formed and transformed these societies. Throughout its impressive history this landscape has both influenced people's activities and been transformed by them. Thus, in order to understand these people, their societies, and how our world has developed and continues to develop, it is critically important to understand these evolving Middle Eastern landscapes.
The Center for Ancient Middle Eastern Landscapes (CAMEL) at the Oriental Institute is dedicated to investigating these landscapes. Three core functions guide the endeavors and development of CAMEL. These are: the systematic collection and organization of contemporary and historical spatial data pertaining to the Middle East, the application of pioneering avenues of inquiry for investigating this data, and the facilitation of the work of numerous projects, researchers and individuals seeking to better understand all or part of the Middle Eastern landscape.
The collection and organization of spatial data forms the backbone of CAMEL. We are already well on our way to integrating within a single Geographic Information System (GIS) framework rectified versions of much of the available spatial data from the Middle East. This is not a small task by any means, and will take a long-term focus and dedication to bring to fruition. But the Oriental Institute has always had a remarkable capacity to realize ambitious visions. The variety of data we are assembling and integrating includes maps and aerial photographs from the Institute's archives and collections, maps and photographs made available by other organizations, individuals and governments, spatial data collected by researchers during the course of their fieldwork, and data acquired by satellites and manned space vehicles from the 1950's to the present. We already possess detailed data for enormous contiguous areas of the Middle East and will soon expand this to fill the entire landscape within a box stretching from the Aegean on the west, to Afghanistan on the east, and from the Black Sea on the north, down to the horn of Africa.
CAMEL, however, is more than just a repository for this data. We also provide, through the integration of spatial data with textual and archaeological information, a more holistic framework for understanding both the ancient and modern Middle East. One way we have been doing this is by allowing researchers to see what lies just beyond the horizon from their research area or to monitor the impacts of modern practices and policies across the landscape. Another way is by pioneering new forms of simulations to better understand the interactions of people with other people and with the landscape. We are doing this both through individual simulations of people walking through particular landscapes and through an ambitious five year collaborative effort with Argonne National Laboratory that grew out of CAMEL to create a simulation program to explore how people interacted with the landscape and each other during a hundred year period in the Early Bronze Age.
CAMEL has also played an important and expanding role in facilitating the research of numerous additional projects at the Oriental Institute and beyond. With connections to research projects around the world CAMEL is becoming globally recognized as an important resource, and one that has a growing role as an integrative component within the overall mission of the world-renowned Oriental Institute. In many ways we are perfectly suited to play a major role in carrying on James Henry Breasted's founding vision for the Institute as elucidated in 1919:
James Henry Breasted
Oriental Institute, 1929
Here, then, is a large and comprehensive task—the systematic collection of the facts from the monuments, from the written records, and from the physical habitat, and the organization of these facts into a great body of historical archives. The scattered fragments of man's story have never been brought together by anyone. Yet they must be brought together by some efficient organization and collected under one roof before the historian can draw out of them and reveal to modern man the story of his own career.
Revised: June 18, 2010