Armchair Archeology

Combining traditional archaeological methods with the power of technology

globe image

Experience the stories in 3D with the Google Earth plugin

Explore stories on the globe
or in the timeline below.


How the Hickman Crater came to light

It was never his intention, but Dr. Arthur Hickman’s discovery on Google Earth of one of Australia’s largest well-preserved meteorite impact craters has put his name on the map. Arthur says it’s ironic that he has devoted so much time to field work during his 40-year career as a geologist with the Geological Survey of Western Australia, but he will probably be best remembered for something he spotted by accident while sitting in his Perth office using Google Earth. The unusual circular feature, which he noticed first as tiny dot on the image, turned out to be an 885-foot wide, 100-foot deep crater that he immediately suspected was the result of a meteorite impact.

Arthur was using Google Earth to examine ways of recognizing iron ore deposits that occur in the hilly Pilbara region of Western Australia when he noticed the circular feature about the size of a pinhead on this computer screen. Zooming in for a closer look, he could see that it consisted of a distinctive circular ridge around a flat, densely vegetated basin. The area was very remote, on a high barren plateau, with no tracks within 5 miles and no habitation within 20 miles.

In such a remote location it was possible that a meteorite impact crater could have gone undiscovered. Arthur sent a screenshot and coordinates to a colleague at the Australian National University, Dr. Andrew Glikson, an international authority on meteorite and asteroid impact structures. Andrew agreed it looked like an impact crater, and a couple of weeks later confirmed this during a field visit. It's suspected the impact crater was made by a meteorite slamming into the earth between 10,000 and 100,000 years ago. Dr. Glikson said it should be called Hickman Crater.

Hickman Crater as seen in Google Earth.

“I wasn’t looking for it. I was high up in Google Earth when I spotted this little circular feature which struck me as odd. When I zoomed in for a closer look, its shape was so typical of an impact crater that I knew it had to be examined by traditional field methods.” -- Dr. Arthur Hickman

How did the Hickman Crater go undiscovered for so long only 22 miles to the north of Newman, one of Australia’s most productive iron mining towns? Since the crater is on top of a plateau, it can only be seen from the air, making discovery through ground surveys aimed at evaluating mining potential less likely. As a result this massive crater, produced by an impact explosion equivalent to about 300,000 tons of TNT, remained hidden in the sweeping rust-colored landscape until Google Earth made aerial viewing – and the possibility of remote discovery – accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

Dr. Hickman on location at the crater site in Western Australia.