Archeology has always developed in the ground, between targeted excavations or discovered by accident. Now, the discipline has new tools that take it to a new level: satellite tools to find traces of ancient civilizations.
The Lascaux caves were discovered by four schoolchildren and a dog. The mummified remains of the 5,300-year-old iceman Ötzi were discovered by hikers in the heart of the Alps, 3,210 meters above sea level. There are many examples of great archaeological discoveries made by accident, but now archeology has new tools that will allow it to accelerate in its quest for discoveries while leaving less chance to chance.
Take for example the search for the ancient lost city of Itjtawy in Egypt. » Discovering it by accident would be like finding a needle in a haystack while blindfolded and wearing baseball gloves. says Sarah Parcak, archaeologist and founder of the Laboratory for Global Observation at the University of Alabama in her TED Talk.
It was she who developed a way of processing satellite images with infrared in order to identify the chemical changes in the soil caused by the activity of ancient civilizations. She quickly discovered patterns that were still unknown, including the ancient « path » of the Nile and the likely location of the ancient lost city of Itjawy, capital of the Egyptian Empire between 1985 BC. AD and 1700 BC. J.-C.
Researching ancient sites with this technique is a boon to the study of ancient civilizations. Indeed, in 2011, Sarah Parcak discovered over a dozen lost pyramids, over 1,000 tombs and 3,100 ancient settlements in Egypt using this technique.
Last year, a team of archaeologists led by NASA archaeologist Tom Sever used these satellite images to locate several ancient Mayan settlements then hidden by deep jungle. Another example, during the month of June 2016, Sarah Parcak and archaeologist Christopher Tuttle used this technique to locate a huge monument hidden in the heart of the very famous and very visited site of Petra, in Jordan.
Last week, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Culture and Information announced that it had used satellites to identify as many as 5,000 ancient sites in that country in the past year. The Ministry is working on a map of the sites to protect them from potential looters.
But all this does not mean that discoveries on the ground or by accident are no longer necessary. Sarah Parcak recently launched GlobaXplorer, a global movement in which she calls on all interested archeology enthusiasts to help archaeologists locate and identify ancient sites as quickly as possible before they are destroyed by war or looters. . » By building a citizen science platform and training an army of 21st century explorers, we will find and protect the world’s hidden legacy, which holds clues to humanity’s resilience and collective creativity. “, she writes on the site.