If you look at the Nile on a map of Egypt, you don't think it has moved very much, but the river is very violent and has moved over time.

Sarah Parcak

Sarah Parcak

Profession: Archaeologist
Nationality: American

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In Egypt, I do survey work on the ground. That's really the most important part of using satellite images. You know, it helps us to find potential locations for sites, and then we get to go there on the ground and confirm what we've seen.

Archaeologists have used aerial photographs to map archaeological sites since the 1920s, while the use of infrared photography started in the 1960s, and satellite imagery was first used in the 1970s.

It's both Indiana Jones and 'National Geographic' that inspired me to be an Egyptologist.

Scientists use satellites to track weather, map ice sheet melting, detect diseases, show ecosystem change... the list goes on and on. I think nearly every scientific field benefits or could benefit from satellite imagery analysis.

The majority of the research I do is archaeological research, but to me, as a professor, the most important thing is to encourage and mentor students.

My dream is to map every archaeological site in the world because, if we can do that, then we have this massive global data base that all sorts of global heritage organizations and heritage organizations within countries can use, and they can use that information to protect what's there.

What we did is we used NASA topography data to map out the landscape, very subtle changes. We started to be able to see where the Nile used to flow.

It's an important tool to focus where we're excavating. It gives us a much bigger perspective on archaeological sites. We have to think bigger, and that's what the satellites allow us to do.

We only have a limited amount of time left before many archaeological sites all over the world are destroyed. So we have to be really selective about where we dig.

In archaeology, context is everything. Objects allow us to reconstruct the past. Taking artifacts from a temple or an ancient private house is like emptying out a time capsule.

There's even an aircraft sensor system that sends down hundreds of thousands of pulses of light measured at different return rates. It allows you to literally strip away vegetation and see entire cities beneath the rain forest canopy. This is the unbelievable future of archaeology.

Google Earth is an incredible resource because from hundreds of miles in space, we can zoom in, and we can find things. Everyone always looks for their house first. That is the tip of the iceberg with remote sensing.

I keep being surprised by the amount of archaeological sites and features that are left to find all over the world.

I give my grandfather, Dr Harold Young, a forestry Professor at the University of Maine, full credit for my career path. He pioneered the use of aerial photography in forestry in the 1950s, and we think he worked as a spy for the CIA during the Cold War, mapping Russian installations.