Instead of digging for buried treasures, archaeologists may now turn to the sky to seek out the answers to our past.
A system pioneered at the University of Alabama at Birmingham uses infrared imaging on photographs taken 700 kilometers above the Earth to discover what’s buried beneath the ground.
The infrared technology allowed the team, led by U.S. Egyptologist Sarah Parcak, to see different building materials under the surface of the ground. A recently analyzed image of the town of San el-Hagar reveled the ancient city plan of Tanis buried beneath the modern city.
A BBC report, “Egypt’s Lost Cities,” will air on May 30 and will follow Parcak’s team as it visited the area and started a test dig. Along with the 17 suspected pyramids, the image identified more than 1,000 tombs and 3,000 ancient settlements. Egyptian authorities told the BBC that Tanis may be one of the most important archaeological sites in Egypt.
Update: Reader RD Padouk explains a bit more as to how the technology works: infra-red technology looks for places that are cooling off at night or heating up in the morning at different rates than the surrounding landscape. “There's a cornucopia of such ‘Remote Sensing’ technologies that have yet to be systematically applied to archeological targets,” he writes.