Archaeologists have made an amazing discovery using infra-red imaging: 17 lost pyramids have been identified in the sands of Egypt, along with more than 1000 tombs and 3000 ancient settlements, says the BBC. Archaeologist Sarah Parcak of the University of Birmingham says that she’s also found a detailed street plan of the city of Tanis and an “A-to-Z of the region’s northern capital,” the Guardian reports.
This video has clips from a BBC report on Parcak’s findings.
Parcak made these discoveries by studying images from satellites that orbit 400 miles above the earth. Powerful cameras are able to detect objects less than three feet in diameter on the surface of the earth. This new technology can help archaeologists be, Parcak says, “more focused and selective in the work we do”; when “faced with a massive site,” it is — as us amateurs can only imagine — hard to know where to start looking.
A BBC crew accompanied Parcak on what she called her “nervous” journey to Egypt to excavate the sites. Initial excavations are confirming her findings — some dating back some 3000 years — and have already found two of the pyramids. Says Parcak in the BBC:
“We were very intensely doing this research for over a year. I could see the data as it was emerging, but for me the “Aha!” moment was when I could step back and look at everything that we’d found and I couldn’t believe we could locate so many sites all over Egypt.
“To excavate a pyramid is the dream of every archaeologist,” she said.
The mud bricks that ancient Egyptians used to build houses, temples and other structures can also be detected as such materials are denser than the soil around it.
While new technologies like infra-red imaging can help to reveal new archaeological treasures, it’s important to note that nothing replaces digging in the dirt. Mike Pitts, the editor of British Archaeology, writes in the Guardian:
In the near east and in Siberia, 3D images are helping to understand remote landscapes and archaeological sites. The roads on which the statues were moved across Easter Island have now been mapped. And in Peru vast ancient “geoglyphs” have been seen, land art in the form of animal shapes created when people moved earth and stones about. The last is a warning. Last year Amelia Carolina Sparavigna, a physicist in Turin, claimed to see birds and snakes outlined in the sinuous walls and field boundaries of ancient landscapes around Late Titicaca. These designs would never have been visible from the ground, and even from above require much faith as you pick along one wall and ignore many others to end up with a very wobbly looking fauna (mysteriously including a hedgehog).
Satellites are powerful tools. At the end of the day, though, you still need to get down on your knees before you can be really sure what you are seeing.
New archaeological findings could also be key in attracting tourists to Egypt. Prior to the revolution in Egypt, tourism made up 11 percent of Egypt’s economy, according to the Washington Post. But only 200,000 foreign visitors came to Egypt this past February, versus 1.1 million a year ago as Al-Jazeera reports.
Photo of the pyramids in Giza by gloria_euyoque.