New infrared technology allows archaeologists to zero in on buried settlements, and 1,000 tombs.
Seventeen mud brick pyramids are among the buried buildings revealed by infrared imagery over the past year. Dr. Sarah Parcak from the University of Alabama in Birmingham used satellites that hover 260km above earth to photograph once thriving Egyptian settlements engulfed by Nile River silts. These images are so detailed that researchers can map out the layout and streets of Tanis, Egypt’s ancient capital located near modern day San El Hagar.
Dr. Parcak told the BBC that every archaeologist dreams about excavating a pyramid. Evidently, her dream has just come true.
One thousand tombs and 3,000 ancient settlements were also revealed through the satellite imagery, which distinguishes between the densely-packed mud brick and surrounding soil.
When the American Egyptologist presented her findings to the Egyptian authorities, they weren’t convinced of the value of her research. Until she told them about the pyramids. Initial excavations near Saqqara corroborate her research, and the archaeological site is now considered one of Egypt’s most important.
Pinpointing archaeological sites using this new technology could completely transform archaeology, according to Dr. Parcak. Not only does she expect that there are hundreds of other settlements throughout Egypt that are buried further below the surface, but it can help other researchers narrow their searches.
“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,” she told the BBC.
The Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy, who devoted his career to promoting ancient building materials and techniques, would be proud. Those pyramids, albeit buried, have withstood the ravages of time.
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