Using Satellite Archaeology to Protect Ancient Sites

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.

Sarah Parcak is a leading expert on space archaeology. She is from Bangor, Maine, and is a National Geographic Society Archaeology Fellow, Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and a 2013 TED Senior Fellow. Sarah serves as the founding director of the Laboratory for Global Observation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she is a professor.
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.
Watch Sarah Parcak’s TED talk


This post is excerpted from The ArcGIS Imagery Book: New View, New Vision. Imagery is suddenly a big deal, and those who are adept at finding it, analyzing it, and understanding what it actually means are going to be in demand in the years ahead. The purpose of this book is to help everyone from GIS professionals to app developers, and web designers to virtually anyone how to become smarter, more skillful, and more powerful appliers of image data. The book is available through and other booksellers, and is also available at for free.

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