Everything from broccoli florets to riverbeds divide and branch in fractal patterns, or patterns that repeat themselves at ever-smaller scales. In Egypt, archaeologists are taking advantage of that fact to look for riverbed patterns in the Western Desert that don't appear fractal, the New Scientist reported. The Western Desert is where King Sneferu — father of the pharaoh who built the Great Pyramid of Giza — practiced his own pyramid-building. If nature loves fractals, the researchers reasoned, then non-fractal riverbeds may have been altered during Sneferu's and other Old Kingdom rulers' reigns, 4,500 years ago.

By analyzing now-dry riverbeds, archaeologists from the Freie Universität Berlin in Germany and the German Archaeological Institute in Egypt discovered that at least 2.3 square miles (6 square kilometers) of desert was altered by people, the New Scientist reported. That is a surprisingly large area, lead researcher Arne Ramisch told the magazine. Without the fractal analysis, determining the affected area would be difficult because most other signs of human activity have worn away over the millennia. 

An archeologist who was not involved in the German researchers' work, Keith Challis of the University of Birmingham in the U.K., told the New Scientist that looking for fractal patterns is a new and interesting way to look for human modifications in landscapes. 

The German archaeologists published their findings in the July 17 issue of the journal Quaternary Internation.

Source: New Scientist

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