Filed under: The Big Picture | Tags: archaeology, COSI, Lost Egypt, Sarah Parcak, sattelite image
Another of the archaeologists whom we have interviewed for the exhibit is Sarah Parcak. She has been doing some really cool work on finding sites using satellite imagery, and she’s been called the first person to use this imagery to find new sites in Egypt.
Dr. Parcak works at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. It’s a little odd to think of an archaeologist doing a lot of “field work” at a computer station, but that’s exactly what she’s doing. One of the tricky things about archaeology is that the people who practice it are often looking for things that are hidden, buried underground for long periods of time (have you ever seen the drawings Napoleon’s team did of the Sphinx buried up to its neck in sand?). Archaeologists used to (and sometimes still do) rely on logic, perseverance, and luck when looking for new sites. They would dig in places where they had deduced that a site should be based upon the available evidence (like the team that discovered the Lost City of the Pyramid Builders), or they would jump on chance discoveries made by the local human or even animal population (like the donkey who accidentally stepped into the graves now known as The Valley of the Golden Mummies). But because of the satellite imaging that is now being done by Dr. Parcak and others, archaeologists are better able to determine exactly where to dig before ever even setting foot there.
Her tools range from old still images from spy satellites to cutting-edge digital scanning filters that can detect differences in the water content of soil. She even uses Google Earth to search known sites from above and look for previously unknown features. To date, Dr. Parcak has discovered more than 150 previously unknown sites, with the promise of many, many more; she estimates that only about 0.01 percent of ancient Egypt has been uncovered!
Try it yourself! In Google Earth, visit Amarna, a vast ancient site and the capitol of Egypt during the reign of Akhenaten (27°39’24”N, 30°54’22”E). See if you can tell the difference between the modern town and what’s buried just to the south of it!