Space Archeology – With Special Guest Dr. Sarah Parcak

February 18, 2013

John P. Millis, Ph.D. and Jedidiah Becker for – Your Universe Online

In this special edition of redOrbit’s Your Universe Today podcast series, we’re making a minor departure from our usual talks about the frontiers of space exploration. Instead, we’ve decided to take a look back at the history of our world – from outer space of course.

In celebration of National Geographic’s 125th Anniversary this Sunday (January 13), redOrbit’s Dr. John Millis spoke with Sarah Parcak about the exciting field of Space Archeology. A Professor of Archeology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and one of NatGeo’s 2012 Emerging Explorers, Dr. Parcak is also a second-generation pioneer in this relatively young and little known field of research.

Be sure to check back with us on Monday for the third and final installment of our interview with Dr. Eric Mamajek about planet hunting and the possibility of finding life on other planets.

Few people realize that scientists currently know more about the surface of the Moon than they do about the surface of our own planet. Whether in countries like Egypt or Syria where current political turmoil has made it increasingly difficult to hunt for archeological sites, or in the jungles of Central America where dense foliage creates an almost impenetrable cloak over ancient Mayan ruins, large tracts of our world remain all but inaccessible to traditional archeological methods. In the past, explorers using these methods have had to strictly delimit the geographical scope of their research and have often had to rely on luck, coincidence and intuition to make their biggest finds.

Our guest Dr. Sarah Parcak explains how the unconventional new field of Space Archeology is attempting to bridge these gaps and allow researchers to explore areas of interest with greater precision than ever before. Using cutting-edge infrared imagery from space satellites to map and model ancient landscapes and search for the hidden ruins of past civilizations, Space Archeology allows excavators to find prime locations for potential discoveries before they ever set foot in the field, saving considerable time and money.

Of course, since satellite imagery can only help to locate, map out and lead researchers to potential archeological sites, a lot of work still has to be carried out on the ground. But while research funding continues to dwindle at universities across the country, the costs of satellite imagery are plummeting year over year as the quality of the technology improves by leaps and bounds. Archeology will always need feet on the ground to carry out the delicate and painstaking work of excavation. But the information gleaned from satellite imagery is quickly becoming an invaluable asset for researchers, giving Space Archeology an indisputable place at the forefront of modern archeology.


Dr. Parcak holds an undergraduate degree from Yale where she double-majored in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (Egyptology) and Archaeological Studies. During her senior year she took a class that changed her life – “Observing the Earth from Space,” an introductory class in interpreting satellite imagery – thanks to her grandfather, a forestry professor at the University of Maine who pioneered the use of aerial photography in forestry.

After receiving a Henry Fellowship from Yale, Dr. Parcak decided to attend Cambridge University to study under renowned Egyptology Professor Barry Kemp for her M.Phil (2002) and PhD (2005). Her PhD dealt with using satellite imagery and ground survey to map landscapes in the Egyptian Delta and Middle Egypt.

After completing her PhD, Dr. Parcak spent a year teaching Egyptology at the University of Wales-Swansea. After moving back to the United States in 2006, Dr. Parcak took a post in the Dept. of Anthropology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She and her husband Greg work together on the Surveys and Excavation Projects in Egypt. In 2007, Dr. Parcak started The Laboratory for Global Observation, which has close ties to NASA. Her book, Satellite Remote Sensing for Archaeology, was published by Routledge in 2009. Her work has been featured in numerous print and online media outlets, and she has appeared in two Documentaries: Why Ancient Egypt Fell for the Discovery Channel, and Egypt’s Lost Cities for BBC1/Discovery Channel.