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Archaeologists use satellites to unearth Egypt's ancient ruins

By Staff

Washington, Dec 25 (ANI): Thanks to high-tech satellites, archaeologists have started discovering a lot more of Egypt's ancient ruins than before.

"Everyone's becoming more aware of this technology and what it can do," said Sarah Parcak, an archaeologist who heads the Laboratory for Global Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "There is so much to learn," she told CNN.

Images from space have been around for decades. Yet only in the past decade or so has the resolution of images from commercial satellites sharpened enough to be of much use to archaeologists.

Today, scientists can use them to locate ruins, some no bigger than a small living room, in some of the most remote and forbidding places on the planet.

For example, Parcak conducted surveys and expeditions in the eastern Nile Delta and Middle Egypt in 2003 and 2004 that confirmed 132 sites that were initially suggested by satellite images.

Eighty-three of those sites had never been visited or recorded.

According to Parcak, in the past two years, she has found hundreds more, leading her to amend an earlier conclusion that Egyptologists have found only the tip of the iceberg.

"My estimate of 1/100th of 1 percent of all sites found is on the high side," she said.

These discoveries are of no small significance to the Egyptian government, which has devoted itself anew to protecting archaeological sites from plunder and encroachment.

The archaeologists study satellite images stored on a NASA database and plugs in global positioning coordinates for suspected sites, then tramps out to see them. Telltale signs such as raised elevations and pot shards can confirm the images.

As a result, the big picture comes into view.

"We can see patterns in settlements that correspond to the (historical) texts, such as if foreign invasions affected the occupation of ancient sites," Parcak said.

"We can see where the Romans built over what the Egyptians had built, and where the Coptic Christians built over what the Romans had built," she added.

"It's an incredible continuity of occupation and reuse," she further added.

The flooding and meanders of the Nile over the millennia dictated where and how ancient Egyptians lived, and the profusion of new data has built a more precise picture of how that worked.

"Surveys give us information about broader ancient settlement patterns, such as patterns of city growth and collapse over time, that excavations do not," said Parcak. (ANI)

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