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Sometimes, it takes the very newest technology to find traces of humanity's ancient past.
That's the premise that has guided Sarah Parcak in her career as an archaeologist who relies on remote sensing data gathered by airplanes, satellites and unpiloted drones. Observations from these systems can help scientists tap into visual cues that are invisible on the ground — and in turn, find long-lost traces of humans who lived millennia before we took to the skies.
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In her book, Parcak pulls together an impressive collection of discoveries made using these high-tech observations and offers behind-the-scenes stories of her work. The book, "Archaeology From Space" (Henry Holt and Co., 2019), was published in July.
Space.com sat down with Parcak to learn more. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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Space.com: For someone unfamiliar with the idea of space archaeology, could you give the summary version of how it came to be?
The field of aerial archaeology, using aerial photographs to map archaeological sites, started in the early 1900s and really picked up in World War I, when early flying aces would use their cameras to take pictures of archaeological sites in the Middle East. And their officers said, 'Wait a minute, you can take pictures from on high?' We take this for granted. But ironically, archaeology started the field of aerial reconnaissance in the military. A lot of people don't know that. Today, we benefit from military technology, so we've shared [technology] over time. But now things are shifting from space-[based] or from air-based platforms to things like UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] and drones, because they're much easier to control and they're much less expensive.
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Space.com: This is clearly not just sort of swooping in with your satellite data and doing whatever you want. Can you talk a little bit about what that process is...
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