Ars on your lunch break: Finding Pharaoh and spotting looters from orbit
Today we’re presenting the second installment of my interview with Sarah Parcak, a prominent founding figure in the emerging field of astroarchaeology. Part one ran yesterday (and if you missed it, click right here). Otherwise, you can press play on the embedded audio player or pull up the transcript—both of which are below.
Today, we start off discussing a program Sarah hosted for the BBC. The network provided her with enough satellite imagery and other resources to enable the discovery of 3,100 potential new archaeological sites. This took her and a handful of students a bit over six months. Imagine if they had been using shovels and magnifying glasses instead of satellites!
Sarah’s team may just have pinpointed a long-lost (and eagerly sought) pharaonic capital. Satellite data helped them establish the Nile’s approximate course during the capital’s heyday—as well as the locations of settlement-friendly highlands. They then took a 10-centimeter-wide core sample in the most promising area. Four meters down, they found a dense layer of high-end pottery, as well as a semi-precious stone. So this quadrant of the vast and largely uninhabitable flood plain not only once hosted a settlement but one with a large elite population. Though not definitive proof, this is highly suggestive that an ancient capital indeed once stood there.