There may be hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of undiscovered ancient sites across the globe, and Sarah Parcak wants to locate them. As a satellite archaeologist, she analyzes infrared imagery collected from far above the earth’s surface and identify subtle changes that signal a man-made presence hidden from view. Doing so, she and her colleagues aim to make invisible history visible once again—and to offer a new understanding of the past.
Inspiration comes from her grandfather, an early pioneer of aerial photography. While studying Egyptology in college, Parcak took a class on remote sensing and went on to develop a technique for processing satellite data to see sites of archaeological significance in Egypt. The method allows for the discovery of new sites in a rapid and cost-effective way.
In partnership with her husband, Greg Mumford, they have directed survey and excavation projects invarious places in Egypt. She’s used several types of satellite imagery to look for water sources andarchaeological sites.
Her latest work focuses on the looting of ancient sites. By satellite-mapping Egypt and comparing sites over time, the team noted a 1,000 percent increase in looting since 2009 at major ancient sites. It’s likely that millions of dollars’ worth of ancient artifacts are stolen each year. The hope is that, through mapping, unknown sites can be protected to preserve our rich, vibrant history.
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