Satellites "See" Ancient Egyptian City

Say hello to Google Ancient Earth? Today's high-resolution satellites are now snapping photos of millennia-old archaeological sites, and may be the key to their preservation.

Every year, tourists flock to Egypt to see the Great Pyramids and the Temple of Luxor. But experts estimate that more than 99 percent of the region's archaeological sites are still buried, leaving them at risk of being lost to looting and urban sprawl.

Using images taken by satellites—and commercially available on the internet—a research team led by archaeologist Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama at Birmingham has recently confirmed about 400 ancient sites in Egypt, some more than 5,000 years old.

Archaeological sites are usually covered with specific types of soil and vegetation, and absorb moisture differently than modern developments. These differences are difficult to observe on land, but pop out much more quickly when looking at a large region from space.

i-1866817e7053e0a98f63c6edd2fa9b19-satellite.jpg

The image above shows the Great Aten Temple at Tell el-Amarna, from Middle Egypt. The satellite's high-resolution imaging technology "sees" the temple's northern wall, even though it's buried beneath a modern cemetery.

Parcak's now working closely with Egypt's Supreme Council for Egyptian Antiquities to plan excavations of these massive sites before modern development buries the historical treasures they undoubtedly hold. They're "planning out more detailed work over the next few years," she says. "There are thousands of sites out there waiting to be found, so we have our work cut out for us."

Image Credit: Sarah H. Parcak, University of Alabama at Birmingham

More like this

Andromeda, also known as M31, is the nearest large galaxy to us. At "only" 2 million light-years away, it gives us the best chance to study another spiral galaxy besides our own. I get particularly impressed by the high resolution images we can get, since it's so close to us. Andromeda looks like…
Earth at Night. This is what the Earth looks like at night. Can you find your favorite country or city? Surprisingly, city lights make this task quite possible. Human-made lights highlight particularly developed or populated areas of the Earth's surface, including the seaboards of Europe, the…
Buying Experiences, Not Possessions, Leads To Greater Happiness: Can money make us happy if we spend it on the right purchases? A new psychology study suggests that buying life experiences rather than material possessions leads to greater happiness for both the consumer and those around them.…
Brain Maps offers over 50 terabytes of high-resolution pictures of brains from several different organisms. You're probably familiar with the brain off to the right -- it's good ol' Homo sapiens. The brain at left may be a bit less readily identifiable. It's Tyto alba, or the barn owl. Perhaps the…