(CNN) — Archaeologists believe they have unearthed only a small fraction of Egypt’s ancient ruins, but they’re making new discoveries with help from high-tech allies — satellites that peer into the past from the distance of space.
“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.”
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.
In this field, Parcak is a pioneer. Her work in Egypt has yielded hundreds of finds in regions of the Middle Egypt and the eastern Nile River Delta.
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.
In the past two years, she has found hundreds more, she said, 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,” Parcak 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 Supreme Council of Antiquities has restricted excavation in the most sensitive areas along the Nile — from the Great Pyramids at Giza on the outskirts of Cairo to the carvings of Ramses II in the remote south. Continue reading