May 2011: Using infra-red satellite imaging, Egyptologist Sarah Parcak has discovered 17 lost pyramids and more than 1,000 tombs and 3,100 ancient settlements were revealed by looking at infra-red images which show up underground buildings. The pyramids are thought to have been covered by silt from the Nile and Dr Parcak believes there could be thousands more sites of interest further beneath the desert’s surface. Two test excavations have been carried out at Saqqara which revealed two lost pyramids, with the area now being described as one of the most important archaeological sites in Egypt.
The work has been pioneered at the University of Alabama at Birmingham by American Egyptologist Dr. Sarah Parcak. The research was funded by the BBC. Using satellites that orbited 700 km about the Earth, Parcak was able to capture the images of the antiquities. A French excavation team confirmed what the images saw. The new discovery will be revealed in the UK on the BBC on Monday. The Discovery Channel will air its own version of the story over the summer.
“We were very intensely doing this research for over a year,” she stated. “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.”
The satellites that took the images orbited 700km above the earth and were equipped with cameras so powerful they can pin-point objects less than 1 meter in diameter on the earth’s surface. Infra-red imaging was used to highlight different materials under the surface.
Parcak recently traveled to Egypt to conduct excavations in the areas photographed and hopefully to back up what her technology was able to detect under the surface. According to the report, local authorities were not initially interested in her findings, but when she told them she had seen two potential pyramids, they made test excavations and now believe it is one of the most important archaeological sites in Egypt.
The most exciting moment for Parcak was visiting the excavations at Tanis, a city in the north-eastern Nile delta of Egypt. “They’d excavated a 3,000-year-old house that the satellite imagery had shown and the outline of the structure matched the satellite imagery almost perfectly. That was real validation of the technology.”
She expressed her hopes that the new technology will help engage young people in science and will help archaeologists around the world. “It allows us to be more focused and selective in the work we do,” she explained. “Faced with a massive site, you don’t know where to start. It’s an important tool to focus where we’re excavating. It gives us a much bigger perspective on archaeological sites. We have to think bigger and that’s what the satellites allow us to do.”
Note: History could be relative to the times of Joseph, then Prime Minister of Egypt and later Moses the master builder of Pharoah.