May 22nd, 2012
01:26 PM ET

This week on 'The Next List': a space archaeologist

By The Next List staff, CNN

(CNN) - She's been called a real life Indiana Jones but Sarah Parcak, a self-described "space archeologist," says Indy has nothing on her.

“I’d take him on in a search for archeological sites and I’d win,” the 33-year-old says.

Parcak uses infrared satellite imagery to uncover Egyptian ruins –pyramids, palaces, and tombs; ancient civilizations thought buried forever. Her work is mind-boggling and is literally transforming the field of archaeology. From her research lab at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Sarah analyzes satellite images from space to reveal ancient structures hidden beneath the surface of Earth.

Parcak says this satellite imagery, also called “remote sensing,” is sort of like a space-based ultrasound.

“We send up a satellite that takes pictures of Earth, that record information on the different parts of the light spectrum that we can’t see with the human eye,” she says.

This year, Parcak and her team announced the discovery of 17 lost pyramids and more than 1,000 tombs and 3,000 ancient settlements outside San El Hagar in Egypt. The BBC documented Sarah and her team’s discoveries in the riveting program: “Egypt: What Lies Beneath.”

Satellite imaging is by no means Parcak’s first coup. She came to the University of Alabama at Birmingham along with her husband, fellow Egyptologist Greg Mumford, a few years ago after earning her doctorate at Cambridge University. Before that, she earned an undergraduate degree from Yale. In 2009, Sarah literally wrote the book on satellite technology, publishing the first methods guide for the field. She founded the UAB Laboratory for Global Health Observation, the first satellite remote-sensing lab in North America focused on health-based research. Parcak, like many change agents featured on “The Next List” is prolific. She’s an athlete, and an avid gardener (which she says is the closest thing to digging outside of Egypt), and an accomplished cook.

She’s merely scratched the surface using satellite imagery. More than 99% of ancient Egypt remains to be uncovered and it’s her dream to map every archaeological site in the world, she said. But Parcak says she’s racing against the clock; worried about site looters and damage, Parcak's trying to teach more archaeologists about this new technology.

“If we can map all these sites, then we have this massive database that all sorts of global heritage organizations within countries can use. And then, they can use that information to protect what’s there,” Parcak says.

Guided by new satellite images, she and her team recently trekked through deserts in Tunisia, Jordan and Italy, hoping to gain a better understanding of life during the Roman Empire. Sarah Parcak’s revolutionary approach saves money and time, and more importantly – the history of our planet.

Tune into CNN at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday to see a 30-minute profile on this space archeologist.

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Filed under: Archaeology • Innovation • The Next List • Video
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. eleanor corrick

    How exciting can you get! Pealing back the sands of time without a spade....wonder of wonders. Now the big problem will be greed, those who would destroy our history for gain. Alas what to do?

    May 30, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Reply
  2. Eric Smith

    I found this story absolutely inspiring. I wonder if this technology is being used to assist in the excavation of the controversial Bosnian pyramids.

    May 27, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Reply
  3. earthbond2012sir

    on to the forward most memories, left by time. united we stand, divided is the lost of a simpel but long thought. "we will remain"

    May 23, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Reply

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