Frequently Asked Questions



What does CAMEL stand for?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a camel is “A large hornless ruminant quadruped, distinguished by its humped back, long neck, and cushioned feet.” In this case, however, CAMEL stands for the Center for Ancient Middle Eastern Landscapes, which is both a conceptual and institutional entity. CAMEL was born in a small laboratory in the basement of the Oriental Institute in 1998 under the direction of Tony Wilkinson. By 2004 it had outgrown this space and was moved to a larger area within the William M. Sumner Computer Laboratory in room 202 of the Oriental Institute.

What does CAMEL do?

Please see our mission statement here.

How does CAMEL obtain its imagery?

The Oriental Institute itself houses thousands of unique aerial photography of the Middle East taken during the early- to mid-19th century, including a series taken by its founder, James Henry Breasted. The OI archives also holds a substantial collection of survey and thematic maps published over the last two centuries. Through coordination with other archaeological projects and its own purchases, CAMEL has amassed a series of “Corona” declassified spy-satellite imagery taken in the 60s and 70s. Drawing on other online remote sensing databases such as the GLCF and USGS’ Earth Explorer, we have amassed a considerable collection of over 20,000 images amounting to about seven terabytes in storage space. Since 2014, we have also accumulated over thirty terabytes of geospatial data concerning the archaeological heritage of Afghanistan from various sources. 

Can I download imagery held by CAMEL?

Yes! After years of anticipation, CAMEL data is finally available for online download through the Oriental Institute's Integrated Database (IDB). Visit the IDB webpage and select "CAMEL" from the first menu. Please note that the database does not currently include a spatial search function. For more information on how to find geospatial data via keyword and other types of searches, see the database search tips. Some data held by CAMEL is not publicly distributable because of copyright, donor wishes, and active research projects. The public can therefore only access a subset of our holdings. If you would like to access data not currently available online, we can manually search our database for projects with particular goals. Please contact us to make a request.

May I use CAMEL imagery for publication?

We require that all spatial data obtained from CAMEL be cited as such in print.
Several types of data, such as declassified “Corona” imagery and Landsat imagery, require citation to the data providers and intermediaries like the USGS and the GLCF. Other types of imagery are for academic use only, and publication rights must be obtained from the publisher. Essentially, citation and usage rights vary by the individual spatial dataset. If you do use CAMEL data in a publication, please share the citation for your publication with us. We like to stay informed about what applications our spatial archive is designed for.

How does CAMEL benefit the Oriental Institute?

CAMEL provides researchers ready access to expertise and new technology for acquiring spatial data and to a growing body of spatial data about both the modern and ancient Near East. Its collections in many areas are unparalleled elsewhere in the world. By functioning as a central repository for this data, CAMEL can reduce purchasing costs, speed up access to the data, and allow researchers to relatively easily expand their research horizons beyond their area of interest. The broad scope of detailed data across the entire Near East offers researchers the ability to grapple with larger regional issues in a manner that has never been previously possible. Please see our mission statement for a further description.

Who can use the computer laboratory?

Members of the Oriental Institute and University of Chicago community are welcome to use the laboratory for any type of scanning and for specifically GIS computing work 9am to 5pm, Monday-Friday. The research and work needs of CAMEL and its staff, however, take precedence over other uses. The laboratory computers are regularly cleared of files, and users are not permitted to save materials to the local hard drives.  Due to the cost of materials, printing is restricted to those who have obtained prior permission from CAMEL staff.