Called a modern day Indiana Jones, Dr. Sarah Parcak uses satellite imagery to help her find lost ancient sites.
While studying Egyptology in college she took a course on remote sensing and drawing inspiration from her grandfather, an early pioneer in aerial photography, developed a technique for processing satellite data to discover sites of potential archaeological significance. Instead of relying on the visible portion of the light spectrum, Parcak uses images collected in the infrared portion making new information available during image analysis.
Satellites can detect differences in density as well, and because ancient Egyptians typically built with mud bricks that retain water and are denser than surrounding soil, the outlines of buried settlements, tombs, roads, and temples can be detected. Her techniques have helped to locate 17 potential pyramids, 3,100 forgotten settlements and 1,000 lost tombs in Egypt alone and she has made major findings in the Roman Empire and Viking world as well.
But with all the potential sites she has discovered, Parcak doesn’t feel like that this is her major contribution to her field. Instead it is writing Satellite Remote Sensing for Archaeology, the first textbook on satellite archaeology, where she shares her methods for finding these ancient sites so the next generation of students can not only learn it but can advance the field further.
The founding director of the Laboratory for Global Observation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Parcak, along with her husband, an Egyptologist, direct survey and excavation projects in the East Delta, Sinai, and pyramid fields of Egypt.
In 2015 it was announced that Parcak would be awarded the 2016 TED Prize for her wish that people could discover the millions of unknown archaeological sites across the globe using an online citizen science platform. By training a 21st century army of global explorers it is her hope that the world’s hidden heritage can be found and protected so these sites can give us clues to humankind’s collective resilience and creativity. This platform, called GlobalXplorer launching in early 2017, will enable anyone with an internet connection to help discover the next unknown tomb.
Written by Angela Goad