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Space Archaeology Is A Thing. And It Involves Lasers And Spy Satellites


Archaeologists have been around for centuries. They make it their life’s mission to dig up ruins and learn more about our planet’s past and what people were like back then. Archaeologists dig and explore Earth. What you may not know is that there are space archaeologists. These people don’t fly to other planets to dig and see what they can find. To do their job, the space archaeology use lasers, infrared cameras, and spy satellites.

Sarah Parcak

Sarah Parak is an archaeologist and a professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She is also a professor of anthropology. During her career, she has mapped sites all around the world from space. This is no easy feat. She has done this by using images captured by satellites from NASA and also from private companies. Using images from high above the ground gave her a preservative that most people can not get when exploring from the ground.

Invisible Details

From these great heights, the sensitive instruments used by Sarah and other space archaeologists can reveal details that are invisible to scientists working on the ground. They can mark the positions of the walls, and even see entire cities that have been buried for hundreds of thousands of years. The technology that is available to us today can uncover secrets that have been hidden for centuries.

Sarah’s Book

Sarah believes that her research and her views from apace will transform the field of archaeology. She wrote a book called Archaeology From Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past. In her book, she explains how satellites analyze landscapes and use different parts of the light spectrum to uncover the buried remains of lost and ancient civilizations.

Sarah’s Humble Beginnings

Sarah says that when she started researching archaeological sites from above was slow in the beginning. This was because she didn’t have access to the high-tech equipment that she has today. She didn’t let this stop her, because she was sure that more could be discovered when looking down from great heights. Sarah says that since you cannot get any higher than outer space, that it became her passion.

Sparking An Interest

Sarah first became interested in this field of technology when she read about how researchers first looked down at Stonehenge. This was done over a century ago when the Crops of Royal Engineers photographed the 5,000-year-old structure. Sarah says that due to the technology available back then, the photos were somewhat blurry, but she still saw something. She could see the staining in the landscape around the site. This, she believes, shows that there was something buried there. She was also interested in the aerial photographs from the 60s and the 70s, but it wasn’t until NASA launched their satellites and released the photos to the public that Sarah really became interested in these photographs.

A Completely New World

Sarah says that in the 80s and 90s when the public had access to NASA’s satellite photographs that it opened up an entirely new world for her. The Corona spy satellite program operated from 1959 to 1972 but was classified by the U.S. government for years. Finally, in the 90s, they were declassified, which gave Sarah and others in her field a chance to reconstruct the position of essential sites in the Middle East. These sites had since disappeared or had been eradicated by urban expansion, but Sarah and others like her were able to get a brand new look at these sites.

Other Tools

It isn’t just NASA satellite images that have helped Sarah in her quest for more information. Optical lenses, thermal cameras, and infrared light detection laser systems are all part of her tool kit. Sarah says that she needs as many tools as she can get to be able to view the millions of sites around the world that she would love to explore. She also says that remote sensing isn’t one-size-fits-all. Different terrains require different techniques and various types of technology. She ways that in Egypt, the layers of sand that blanket the lost pyramids require high-resolution satellites, while areas with dense vegetation need different types of technology.

Not Many In Her Field

Sarah says that there aren’t too many in her field; therefore, she relies on citizen scientists who do this type of work as a hobby to do some work and make further discoveries. There are so many sites that should be explored from above; therefore, she will need some help. Since 2017, 80,000 users have evaluated 14 million satellite images and mapped 700 major archaeological sites that were previously unknown. Sarah says that although so much has been viewed, there is still more that we need to learn.


Sarah is not in her field for the acknowledgment. She is interested in uncovering the mysteries of our planet. The fact that she won the TED prize in 2016 was just an added bonus. She says that winning this prize was great because it shined a light on her field and what she is doing today. She says that her wise is to allow anyone to be a space archaeologist on their coffee break. Then, she says that space archaeology is a thing. And it involves lasers and spy satellites that everyone should have access to, and help her with her work. The more people involved, the more information will be uncovered.

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