Ancient Egyptian Pyramids Buried Thousands of Years Located from Space



By examining infrared images taken by NASA satellites, Sarah Parcak and her team from the University of Alabama at Birmingham identified pyramids buried deep under the ancient Egyptian city of Tanis, Egypt. Tanis, abandoned centuries ago, is famous as the fictional home of the Lost Ark from the Indiana Jones movies. Satellite images also showed other lost structures, like tombstones and houses, buried for thousands of years.

"What these satellites do is they record light radiation that's reflected off the surface of the Earth in different parts of the light spectrum," Parcak explained to NPR's Rachel Martin. "We use false color imaging to try to tease out these very subtle differences on the ground."

The satellite images are an archaeologist's clues to what might lie under a rice paddy or a city street. "You just pull back for hundreds of miles using the satellite imagery, and all of a sudden this invisible world become visible," Parcak says. "You're actually able to see settlements and tombs — and even things like buried pyramids — that you might not otherwise be able to see."

What Parcak's team located were 17 structures that had a similar size, shape and orientation to other pyramids in the area. Initial excavations indicate that at least two of the structures are most likely pyramids, but Parcak added, "we're not going to be able to say with a 100-percent certainty that they are pyramids until they're excavated."

Her team joined up with an excavation team onsite in Egypt, where they found the excavated structure matched the satellite images almost perfectly.

"We only have a limited amount of time left before many archaeological sites all over the world are destroyed," Parcak says. "So we have to be really selective about where we dig." The new tools might just buy archaeologists a little more time. We've got to map all of our ancient history before it's gone."

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