The search for ancient civilizations on Earth ... from space

Short Wave


Okay. So first off Sarah Park is kind of a big deal. She's helped uncover prehistoric commented fossils in eroded canyon lake beds, an ancient amphitheater under an airport in Rome and Egypt, which is her specialty. She's uncovered thousands of settlements including more than a dozen pyramids. Are you tired the perpetually, but it's okay. She's written about those discoveries by the way in a recent book called archaeology from. From Space and yes, Sarah does go to sites and do some real digging in the dirt archaeological excavation. But her superpower is analyzing satellite imagery and data to know where to dig in the first place. Most of the imagery I use is called optical satellite imagery. So so it stayed essentially taken from light that's reflected off the surface and looking for changes in patterns we're looking for. How things relate to one another, and hopefully, that will indicate where there could potentially be archaeological sites or features with insights, and then we get to go out on the ground and do serve mapping and excavate them. When you say you use satellite images, what are we talking about a week? Where do those images come from and kind of how do you manipulate them? So it's a, it's a range of different satellite images. So if we're interested in looking really really large landscapes, we use data from NASA but if we're looking. Looking. At very high resolution satellite images, we use the essentially the imagery that you see on Google Earth, which is from a company called Knox our technologies that challenge with that data is that we can't see through trees. I'm dealing with rainforests, of Central, America or Southeast Asia or forest say in New England. Then we use Technology Coal Ladar which tends for light detection and ranging, and that's Eliezer mapping system that you put on an airplane or a drone or a UNLV essentially allowing you to remove trees and see what's there. In your book, you also explain how archaeologists now have the ability to detect temperature differences below the ground. Why? Yes. How first of all cool second of all, how does that work and why is that important? So one particular part of the light spectrum that is really really useful for for the work that we do is the thermal infrared. So if you have anything that's buried and is a chamber or avoid like a room, a tomb a very passageway, you know if it's kind of. Of like when you go into a basement or a wine cellar, you know the temperature drops a couple of degrees. So by using thermal infrared, you can see these very subtle differences in temperature, and if say an area shows up with a lower temperature, that's the shape of a rectangle. Okay. There's something that's there that we may need to check out right in Salt Lake. You're like cake in archaeologists out of business, right? So it's like you still end up going in there. It just kind of. Of helps like going in there and digging stuff up and looking at stuff with different techniques. It's basically just giving you a good idea of like there might be something here, right ex-. Exactly I mean the coolest part of my job I think is the actual physical excavation and that so time consuming and so what the satellites allow us to do is not just fine sites, but also track over time potential threats to them. So whether it's rising water whether it's urbanization or development, maybe there are. are other issues that could be affecting. The sites would allows it's a tool that allows geologists to help, monitor and protect sites right, and and so you even kind of tried to estimate like obviously estimating how many more archaeological sites might be out there, and it's in like the millions right I. I think I estimated and I'm probably I probably not going to give the right number guy the book even though it was the summer, it was Sarah, fifty, fifty, fifty, fifty, sixty, seventy. Eighty ninety. So. Yeah. So so basically I think something like forty, million, fifty, million sites left to find. But like I could be wrong, it could be one, hundred, million, it could be ten, million North Y'all just yet has written me an angry email saying how dare you? Thank, like I think I was pretty on the mark. So. There's another thing that I kind of wanted to talk to you because I don't talk to that many archaeologists, you know what I mean, but now at my own show and they can't stop me, Sarah. So. Can we talk a little bit about how colonialism and archaeology have intersected in the past and and maybe how it still does now, and what we can do about that? I? Guess that's a big question for you. The big question and it's something I and my colleagues think about. A. Lot. So first of all I, have to acknowledge that that archaeology especially, egyptology. It both those fields as well as anthropology, they have deeply racist colonialist routes. All of them, you know Westerners parachute in. Do their projects were essentially archaeological tourists that were probably rank. rankle a lot of my colleagues I. don't care someone needs to speak out about this and they leave which is, which is appalling. You know I pay guards around at the site where I work at list. I have very close relationships with the village My. My education course staff. I speak to them every single week and and at the end of the day, it's about those relationships. So I think we all have to do a lot of hard stares in the mirror at ourselves and ask what are we taking and what are we leaving? Are we training? Are we providing equipment and materials? What else should we be doing to create some more parody and the in the work that we're doing and I'm not the only one doing this by there's so many colleagues both in Egypt and elsewhere are being which were intentional. But I think we have to ask a lot of hard questions. You talk in the book about the importance of discoveries in how a few small discoveries can impact a field more than like a headline worthy discovery, which I. Really like because I think as a person, who's you know been a part of the scientific process. It's frustrating when you know only the big kind of discoveries. Get credit for changing fields. When in reality, it is those little findings you know what I mean. So I'll get, I'll give you an example a colleague and friend of mine few row him a fee. Fi is currently leading excavations in an area near the Valley of the Kings in Egypt and he and his team just uncovered a new workmen's village. So it's a place where men would have stayed and lived as they were constructing tombs in the Valley of the Kings. and kind of compared to other discoveries, not just in Egypt, but but elsewhere, it really didn't get much play but I think it's one of the most extraordinary discoveries in. Egypt. In the last twenty years, we only know of one other workmen's village in West Bank in Luxor. It's an unbelievable fine because it's going to tell us about the daily life of the people who lived and worked. You know three, thousand, three, hundred, three, thousand, five, hundred years ago, right up and to me, it's those discoveries that are most interesting. All Right Sarah. Park. We appreciate you. This is a lot of fun likewise. Thank you so much. Go go go to bed I I. Learned. They're GONNA pay you. Thanks to Sarah. Park. You can read about her work and her book, which is called archaeology from space, how the

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