Despite the importance of North Korea’s cultural resources in researching the history and culture of the Korean peninsula, direct observation of North Korea’s cultural resources is impossible and the information that can be gathered is limited and often times unreliable. In addition, because so little is known about how cultural resources are managed in North Korea, conducting research on North Korea’s cultural resources from South Korea is extremely difficult. This research aims to both highlight and evaluate the potential of using satellite imagery as an avenue for researching North Korean cultural resources. As well as being easily acquired in South Korea, satellite imagery is a primary source of information unadulterated by North Korean perspectives, and therefore, may provide a highly valuable tool. However, in the area of cultural resources research, there is a lack of experience and knowledge regarding which satellite imagery should be used and what levels of analysis are possible. In this study, we select historical sites that are both observable through satellite imagery and most likely to provide meaningful information in order to attempt a comparison between Arirang satellites, South Korea’s well-known domestic satellite imagery provider, and Google Earth, which is both free to use and easily accessed online. Through observations of Joseon Dynasty royal tombs and Lelang Fortress and surrounding tombs, we found that the satellite imagery was useful in observing the condition and management of sites that are not found in historical sources produced in North Korea.
Through a comparison of Google Earth and Arirang satellite images of major sites located in the Pyeongyang and Gaeseong areas, we found that even using Google Earth’s free services, we were able to obtain high-resolution satellite images at the 0.5 m level. In the case of Arirang satellite, it was hard to say that it provided clearer images than Google Earth. This result may be due to similar resolution of Google Earth and Arirang satellite images, and the difference in whether or not calibrated. Therefore, it is believed that commercial satellite imagery should be analyzed through professional analysis tools with calibration.