Where on Google Earth, reverse home edition

I don’t know if you’ve run across the game Where on Google Earth. This is a thing that occasionally crosses the archæological blogs that I read, and the way it works is that the previous winner posts an image captured from Google Earth of an archæological site, whose identity readers are then invited to guess. As with I Spy, the person who guesses correctly gets to set the next challenge. Having met it, I was put sharply in mind of it a while back when still working through the charters in volume 4 of the Catalunya Carolíngia.1 As readers of such things will be aware, when geographical boundaries are used in a charter to describe and locate the land being transferred – that is, mountains, rivers and so on, things that don’t move or perish unlike say, the ‘homesteads of Oliba’ – sometimes those bounds are so specific that it is tempting to try and place them on a map, and the existence of Google Maps makes it exceedingly easy to give into this temptation.2 This can sometimes lead to moments of great serendipity: in one particular case, when searching for a farm in Avinyó, I had narrowed it down to this.3

And then I flipped from map to satellite view, as you too can do above, and behold! There was a flipping farm dead centre of the screen. This was less likely than it seems now, as at the time I did this the buildings were not marked on the map view. Of course it’s unlikely to be the same site, but it was fun to have happen all the same, and I would rather like to ask the owner of that farm about pottery fragments that may turn up in their fields… However, let me try another one for you, this being that mill I mentioned a little while back that had another mill on its boundary.4 That may not help us much, but since the mill was on an island in the middle of the Riu Cardener, one might be forgiven for having a hope. Actually, it’s not a good hope, because rivers tend to be very hard to track in satellite view here because of tree cover and also tend to be marked only as lines in map view. But an island big enough to put a mill on, how many can there be? Admittedly, if for example it was the Riu Ter I was dealing with here, things like the subsequent flooding of one of its valleys for use as a reservoir would mean that the photos would not tell us much about the ancient geography, but that could never happen twice…

Ah. Bother. I’m sure it’s beautiful, of course. But actually, this is a long long way north of where our case must have been, in the old county of Manresa. And, lo, follow the Cardener down far enough and we get to the city of Manresa itself, and there, there are islands in the river. Even here, though, there are weirs and it’s hard to tell how big anything was before humans started really intervening here. There were probably islands in different places and the entire course of the river must have been badly bent by all the canalisation around the city. The place we’re looking for must be here somewhere, between Cardona and the confluence with the Riu Llobregat, but that’s a long trek (and as it now lies, definitely in the ‘extreme’ range to navigate given the weirs and rapids). I’m going to pick this one, but there’s no way to know for sure unless someone were to want to get across there next time they’re in Manresa and kick the grass up a bit… I might have a go myself. Still: till then, there’s a kind of Schrödinger’s Mill here, and until the waveform is collapsed, we can imagine…

Not the most rigorous piece of research-based blogging I’ve ever done, this, but hopefully a bit of fun.


1. As usual, this is Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 53 (Barcelona 1999), documents from the which I reference as CC4 plus their number in what follows.

2. It might well be more academically rigorous to check them out in the series of excellent historical atlases by Jordi Bolòs i Masclans and Victor Hurtado, under the series title Atles dels comtats de Catalunya carolíngia, of course. In fact it definitely is, but you can’t zoom in on buildings from the sky that way or, occasionally, get street view…

3. This being CC4 1446, where the searcher is guided by the fact that the Riu d’Oló bounded two sides and a ridge ran along the third; the estate had several solaria, dovecotes and mills so must have stretched out a bit between those boundaries. This seems like the only plausible spot, being in that bend of the river.

4. CC4 1411.

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One response to “Where on Google Earth, reverse home edition

  1. Pingback: Charter-hacking I: if every property is square… | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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