Satellite imagery reveals Egyptian ruins

CNN has a report on the use of satellites to help unearth ancient Egyptian ruins. Read the full article here. The report features the work of Sarah Parcak, an archaeologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

In our society we tear down anything that is a decade or more old in order to build a new structure. Except, of course, for our historical districts. It wasn’t that way in the ancient world. If a structure was destroyed or ravaged, the conquerors might build a new one in the same place. They would build over and utilize any walls still standing.

Building in ancient Egypt was along the Nile River and in the Delta. Much of what shows as Egypt on a modern map is not currently habitable. Eighty two million people live in this small space, according to the CNN report. When I took my first group to Egypt in 1967 we were told that the population was 40 million. Even then it seemed crowded; now it is terrible.

Here are a few comments about Parcak’s work:

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.

And here are some comments made by Parcak about the value of the satellite images:

“We can see patterns in settlements that correspond to the [historical] texts,” Parcak said, “such as if foreign invasions affected the occupation of ancient sites.

“We can see where the Romans built over what the Egyptians had built, and where the Coptic Christians built over what the Romans had built.

“It’s an incredible continuity of occupation and reuse.”

The flooding and meanders of the Nile over the millennia dictated where and how ancient Egyptians lived, and the profusion of new data has built a more precise picture of how that worked.

“Surveys give us information about broader ancient settlement patterns, such as patterns of city growth and collapse over time, that excavations do not,” said Parcak, author of a forthcoming book titled “Satellite Remote Sensing and Archaeology.”

In every town along the Nile in Upper Egypt (the south) buildings crowd the river. This scene is from Edfu.

Shops at Edfu in Upper Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Shops at Edfu in Upper Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

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