Category Archives: EGYPT

Ancient beer factory unearthed by archaeologists in Egypt

Ancient beer factory unearthed by archaeologists in Egypt

At one of the most famous excavation sites of ancient Egypt, a top antique official said Saturday, American and Egyptian archaeologists have discovered what may be the oldest known beer factory.

A handout picture released by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities on Feb. 13, 2021, shows the remains of a row of vats used for beer fermentation, in a complex which may be the world’s “oldest” high-production brewery, uncovered in the Abydos archaeological site near Egypt’s southern city of Sohag.

The factory was discovered in Abydos, an ancient burial ground situated in the desert west of the Nile River, about 450 kilometers (280 miles) south of Cairo, Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said.

He said the factory apparently dates back to the region of King Narmer, who is widely known for his unification of ancient Egypt at the beginning of the First Dynastic Period (3150 B.C.- 2613 B.C.).

A handout picture released by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities on Feb. 13, 2021, shows the remains of a vat used for beer fermentation, in a complex which may be the world’s “oldest” high-production brewery, uncovered in the Abydos archaeological site near Egypt’s southern city of Sohag.

Archaeologists found eight huge units – each is 20 meters (about 65 feet) long and 2.5 meters (about 8 feet) wide. Each unit includes some 40 pottery basins in two rows, which had been used to heat up a mixture of grains and water to produce beer, Waziri said.

The joint mission is co-chaired by Matthew Adams of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and Deborah Vischak, assistant professor of ancient Egyptian art history and archaeology at Princeton University.

Adams said the factory was apparently built in this area to provide royal rituals with beer, given that archaeologists found evidence showing the use of beer in sacrificial rites of ancient Egyptians.

British archaeologists were the first to mention the existence of that factory in the early 1900s, but they couldn’t determine its location, the antiquities ministry said.

With its vast cemeteries and temples from the earliest times of ancient Egypt, Abydos was known for monuments honoring Osiris, ancient Egypt’s god of the underworld and the deity responsible for judging souls in the afterlife.

The necropolis had been used in every period of early Egyptian history, from the prehistoric age to Roman times.

Egypt has announced dozens of ancient discoveries in the past couple of years, including a 3,000-year-old sarcophagus that could “rewrite history” and mummies with golden tongues, in the hope of attracting more tourists.

The tourism industry has been reeling from the political turmoil following the 2011 popular uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The sector was also dealt a further blow last year by the coronavirus pandemic.

An amazing discovery in Egypt – The bones of a 3600-year-old giant palm

An amazing discovery in Egypt – The bones of a 3600-year-old giant palm

A team of archaeologists has found that one of the palaces in the ancient city of Avaris, in Egypt, has hundreds of human sacrifices hidden beneath the earth. Archaeologists in the past have excavated the skeletons of 16 human hands that were found in four pits.

Two of the pits, located in front of what is believed to be a throne room, hold one hand each. Two other pits, constructed at a slightly later time in outer space of the palace, contain the 14 remaining hands.

They are all right hands; there are no lefts.

“Most of the hands are quite large and some of them are very large,” Manfred Bietak, project and field director of the excavations, told LiveScience.

A severed right hand discovered in front of a Hyksos palace at Avaris (modern-day Tell el-Daba). It would have been chopped off and presented to the king (or a subordinate) in exchange for gold. This discovery is the first archaeological evidence of the practice. At the time they were buried, about 3,600 years ago, the palace was being used by King Khayan. The Hyksos were a people believed to be from northern Canaan, they controlled part of Egypt and made their capital at Avaris on the Nile Delta.

The finds, made in the Nile Delta northeast of Cairo, date back about 3,600 years to a time when the Hyksos, a people believed to be originally from northern Canaan, controlled part of Egypt and made their capital at Avaris a location known today as Tell el-Daba. At the time the hands were buried, the palace was being used by one of the Hyksos rulers, King Khayan

The hands appear to be the first physical evidence of a practice attested to in ancient Egyptian writing and art, in which a soldier would present the cut-off right hand of an enemy in exchange for gold, Bietak explains in the most recent edition of the periodical Egyptian Archaeology.

“Our evidence is the earliest evidence and the only physical evidence at all,” Bietak said. “Each pit represents a ceremony.”

Cutting off the right hand, specifically, not only would have made counting victims easier, it would have served the symbolic purpose of taking away an enemy’s strength.

“You deprive him of his power eternally,” Bietak explained. It’s not known whose hands they were; they could have been Egyptians or people the Hyksos were fighting in the Levant.  “Gold of valor”

Cutting off the right hand of an enemy was a practice undertaken by both the Hyksos and the Egyptians. 

One account is written on the tomb wall of Ahmose, son of Ibana, an Egyptian fighting in a campaign against the Hyksos. Written about 80 years later than the time the 16 hands were buried, the inscription reads in part: 

“Then I fought hand to hand. I brought away a hand. It was reported to the royal herald.” For his efforts, the writer was given “the gold of valor” (translation by James Henry Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Volume II, 1905). Later, in a campaign against the Nubians, to the south, Ahmose took three hands and was given “gold in double measure,” the inscription suggests.

Scientists are not certain who started this gruesome tradition. No records of the practice have been found in the Hyksos’ likely homeland of northern Canaan, Bietak said, so could have been an Egyptian tradition they picked up, or vice versa, or it could have originated from somewhere else. 

Bietak pointed out that, while this find is the earliest evidence of this practice, the grisly treatment of prisoners in ancient Egypt was nothing new.

The Narmer Palette, an object dating to the time of the unification of ancient Egypt about 5,000 years ago, shows decapitated prisoners and a pharaoh about to smash the head of a kneeling man. 

The archaeological expedition at Tell el-Daba is a joint project of the Austrian Archaeological Institute’s Cairo branch and the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

An ancient Egyptian mummy was wrapped in an unusual mud shell

An ancient Egyptian mummy was wrapped in an unusual mud shell

As a result, the discovery of a remarkable “mud mummy” from ancient Egypt has shocked archaeologists, who weren’t expecting to find the deceased encased in a hardened mud shell.

An ancient Egyptian mummy was wrapped in an unusual mud shell
The mud shell was added after the woman’s original mummification, perhaps to repair the damage inflicted by grave robbers.

The “mud carapace” is an unparalleled find; it reveals “a mortuary treatment not previously documented in the Egyptian archaeological record,” the researchers wrote in the study, published online Wednesday in the journal PLOS One. 

It’s possible the “mud wrap” was used to stabilize the mummy after it was damaged, but the mud may have also been meant to emulate practices used by society’s elite, who were sometimes mummified with imported resin-based materials during a nearly 350-year period, from the late New Kingdom to the 21st Dynasty (about 1294 B.C. to 945 B.C.), the researchers said.

So, why was this individual covered with mud, rather than resin? “Mud is a more affordable material,” study lead researcher Karin Sowada, a research fellow in the Department of History and Archaeology at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, told Live Science in an email.

The mud sheath isn’t the mummy’s only oddity. The mummy, dated to about 1207 B.C., was damaged after death, and was even interred in the wrong coffin actually meant for a woman who died more recently, the researchers found.

Like many ancient Egyptian mummies, the “mud mummy” and its lidded coffin were acquired in the 1800s by a Western collector, in this case, Sir Charles Nicholson, an English-Australian politician who brought it to Australia.

Nicholson donated them to the University of Sydney in 1860, and today they reside at the university’s Chau Chak Wing Museum. But it appears that whoever sold the artefacts tricked Nicholson; the coffin is younger than the body buried in it, the researchers found.

“Local dealers likely placed an unrelated mummified body in the coffin to sell a more complete ‘set,’ a well-known practice in the local antiquities trade,” the researchers wrote in the study.

The coffin is inscribed with a woman’s name — Meruah or Meru(t)ah — and dates to about 1000 B.C., according to iconography decorating it, meaning the coffin is about 200 years younger than the mummy in it.

While the individual isn’t Meruah, anatomical clues hint that it is a female who died between the ages of 26 and 35, the researchers said.

Muddy treatment

Researchers got their first inkling that the 3,400-year-old mummy was unusual in 1999 when a CT (computed tomography) scan revealed something strange inside. To investigate, the researcher extracted a few samples of the wrappings and discovered they contained a sandy mud mixture.

When a new team of researchers re-scanned the mummy in 2017, they uncovered previously unknown details about the carapace, especially when they chemically reexamined the mud fragments. 

After she died, the woman was mummified and wrapped in textiles. Then, her remains, including her left knee and lower leg, were damaged in “unknown circumstances,” possibly by grave robbers, which prompted someone to repair her mummy, likely within one to two generations of her first burial — a feat that included “rewrapping, packing and padding with textiles, and application of the mud carapace,” the researchers wrote in the study.

CT images of the mummy offered clues to the wrapping process.

Whoever repaired the mummy made a complicated earthy sandwich, placing a batter of mud, sand and straw between layers of linen wrappings.

The bottom of the mud mixture had a base coat of a white calcite-based pigment, while its top was coated with ochre, a red mineral pigment, Sowada said. “The mud was apparently applied in sheets while still damp and pliable,” she said. “The body was wrapped with linen wrappings, the carapace applied, and then further wrappings placed over it.” 

Later, the mummy was damaged again, this time on the right side of the neck and head. Because this damage affects all of the layers, including the muddy carapace, it appears this damage was more recent and prompted the insertion of metal pins to stabilize the damaged areas at the time, the researchers said.

This “mud mummy” isn’t the only ancient Egyptian mummy subject to post-mortem repair; the body of King Seti I was wrapped more than once, and so were the remains of King Amenhotep III (King Tut’s grandfather), the researchers noted.

As for the woman’s mud carapace, “this is a genuinely new discovery in Egyptian mummification,” Sowada said. “This study assists in constructing a bigger — and a more nuanced — picture of how the ancient Egyptians treated and prepared their dead.”

There is a ‘Hidden World’ Beneath The Pyramids of Giza, Experts Claim

There is a ‘Hidden World’ Beneath The Pyramids of Giza, Experts Claim

If you’ve ever seen the pyramids at Giza, you know how beautiful they are. The three monumental pyramids emerge like towering monoliths from a long-forgotten age. The beauty of the pyramids certainly catches the imagination of those who gaze upon them.

In order to see the immense pyramids, most tourists understandably want to see the last intact wonder of the ancient world, but many people are still intrigued by what could be concealed beneath these ancient structures.

Since ancient times, there have been rumours of an underworld beneath the Plateau of Giza, of secret chambers, tunnels, caves and underground rivers said to be beneath the sands.

The Great Pyramid of Giza

Many people think there is a vast amount of treasure still hidden somewhere down there – some people even claim there is also a lost library filled with ancient wisdom. Modern explorations have proved some of these theories partially true, with hidden chambers and shafts found in the plateau.

Let’s look at the hidden world beneath the Pyramids of Giza.

The Osiris Shaft

Entrance to the Osiris Shaft

The mysterious Osiris shaft is a steep, narrow shaft under the Khafre causeway that goes to a depth of around 30m. The tunnel has been known about for a long time, but due to being filled with water, it wasn’t possible to fully investigate it. However, by 1999 the water level had fallen enough to allow a team led by Zahi Hawass to excavate it. They discovered the shaft had three levels, with the second level containing two granite sarcophagi with skeletal remains inside.

Most interesting of all was the last level, which turned out to be a royal subterranean hall that contained a perfectly preserved, empty sarcophagus (sounds like the start of a Mummy film). The hieroglyphic word ‘pr’, meaning house, was found on the floor in this hall. The Giza Plateau was called the house of Osiris, Lord of Rastaw.

Carbon analysis from artefacts found in the last level is probably from the sixth dynasty of the Old Kingdom, making it the oldest datable material found in the Giza plateau. This proves that the Greek historian Herodotus was right, who wrote in the 5th century BC that the original builders of the pyramids had built chambers and shafts under Giza.

Many experts think the Osiris shaft was built as a symbolic tomb to worship Osiris. Some people have claimed that the Osiris shaft has many other tunnels leading off it, which may lead to other chambers and shafts beneath the pyramids.

Perhaps there is more to be discovered down there.

Chambers Beneath The Great Sphinx of Giza

The Enigmatic Great Sphinx of Giza

The enigmatic Great Sphinx of Giza has long attracted speculation, from the plausible to the downright bizarre. There is a popular theory that the sphinx is much older than it’s a current estimation, with some claiming it’s over 10,000 years old. There are also theories that the sphinx sits on top of hidden chambers that may contain treasure.

The back of the Sphinx contains a sealed passageway that leads down into the statue, people have speculated this may lead to a chamber.

There are also two holes underneath the sphinx that lead to passageways and chambers underneath it. GPR surveys have shown the chambers exist.

The chambers haven’t been fully explored yet, so who knows what they may lead to. Perhaps there are chambers under the sphinx that contain Khafre’s treasure, or maybe even the fabled Hall of Records (I doubt this exists). It’s also possible that tunnels branch of from the chambers as part of a whole subterranean network beneath the Giza Plateau.

Whatever the truth it’s clear the Sphinx hasn’t given up all it’s secrets yet.

Caves and Tunnels Beneath The Plateau

Entrance to shaft south of the Great Pyramid of Giza
Entrance to one of the Chambers Or Passageways Behind the Pyramid of Khafre

According to certain researchers, there is a large system of caves beneath the Giza Plateau. British explorer Andrew Collins claims he discovered an entrance to this network, which he says leads to a whole network of caves, tunnels, tombs and chambers beneath the area.

He only went a few hundred metres but said there was a lot more to explore down there. In the Old Kingdom Giza was known as Rostau – the mouth of the passages- so this could have referred to it being the site of a subterranean network.

There are numerous openings and shafts throughout the Giza Plateau that lead underground. Some of these openings lead to small tombs and storage rooms, but others appear to go much deeper.

It’s possible there really is a cave network beneath part of Giza that was expanded and added to by the Ancient Egyptians so that they created a hidden world beneath the pyramids. One thing is certain, there is still a lot to discover beneath the most famous ancient site in the world.

Maybe some of these lost chambers still contain priceless relics and treasures from the Old Kingdom, just waiting to be found.

View From Behind The Pyramid of Khafre
Covered Entrance to Chamber Behind Pyramid of Khafre

Ancient mummy with golden tongue found in Egypt

Ancient mummy with golden tongue found in Egypt

Archaeologists have discovered 16 burials at an ancient Egyptian site in the Taposiris Magna. The mummies were found to have a gold tongue. The team speculates that after the person’s tongue was removed during embalming it was replaced with the object so the deceased could speak to Osiris in the afterlife.

A god called Osiris is the Egyptian “Lord of the Underworld,” and he is one of the most powerful gods of the Ancient Egyptian. In other words, he is a judge of the dead

The burial shafts, dating back some 2,000 years, were popular in ancient Greek and Roman eras, which held remains inside of a mountain or natural rocky formation.

Within the tombs were a number of mummies and although the remains have since deteriorated, the stone funeral masks are still intact – allowing the team to see what each person may have once looked like. 

The excavation is being led by the University of Santo Domingo, which has been working at the site for nearly a decade.

This 2,000-year-old mummy was buried with a golden tongue, likely to help the deceased speak in the afterlife.
A female mummy covered with a death mask from Alexandria, Egypt.

The team had previously uncovered several coins inside the Temple of Taposiris Magna etched with the face of Queen Cleopatra VII, which suggests she ruled when many of the individuals were laid to rest in their rock-cut tombs.

Additionally, pieces of statues and temple grounds reveal King Ptolemy IV built this spectacular temple.

Ptolemy IV Philopator reigned over Egypt from 221 to 204BC and due to his interest in lavish celebrations and ceremonies, the decline of the Ptolemaic dynasty is usually traced to him.

The other burials were not as preserved, but Dr. Kathleen Martinez, who is leading the dig, uncovered a number of luxurious trinkets and the statues over the tombs are intact – allowing experts to see who the people were

The skeleton with the gold tongue was found to be well-preserved, as its skull and most of its structure is still intact. Archaeologists dug it out of the rock-cut tomb and were met with the still shining gold object inside of the skeleton’s mouth.

They speculate that the tongue was removed by embalmers, but the gold tongue was put in its place during a funeral ritual. The hope is that this individual would have the ability to speak to the god of the dead, Osiris, upon arriving in the afterlife.

Kathleen Martinez, who is leading the dig, believes the site was strongly associated with the myth of Isis and Osiris – a myth that Cleopatra often tried to imitate during her life

Osiris is said to rule over the underworld and would judge the spirits of those who had died. And by giving the person who died some 2,000 years ago a tongue, may have allowed them to convince Orisis to show mercy on their spirit.

The other burials were not as preserved, but Dr. Kathleen Martinez, who is leading the dig, uncovered a number of luxurious trinkets and the statues over the tombs are intact – allowing experts to see who the people were.

One was found with remains of ‘gilding and bearing gilded decorations showing the god Osiris.’

Another was adorned with a stunning crown when they were laid to rest, which is decorated with horns, and a snake on the forehead that is most likely a cobra.

An additional symbol, depicting the god Horus, was found on the chest of one of the mummies. The symbol was incorporated in a decoration that represented a wide necklace from which a head of a falcon was hanging.

Dr. Khaled Abo El Hamd, the Director-General of The Alexandria Antiquities, said in a statement that ‘during this season the mission discovered a number of archaeological discoveries, the most important of which is a funeral mask for a woman, eight golden flakes representing the leaves of a golden wreath, and eight masks of marble dating back to the Greek and Roman eras.’

The Egyptian official also added that these masks ‘show high craftsmanship in sculpture and depiction of the features of its owners.’

This Yellow Egyptian Glass Was Forged by a Meteorite Impact 29 Million Years Ago

This Yellow Egyptian Glass Was Forged by a Meteorite Impact 29 Million Years Ago

In 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the untouched tomb of Tutankhamen, a minor pharaoh who ruled over Egypt almost 3,300 years ago. When Carter entered the tomb for the very first time and asked if he could see anything, he famously responded: ”Yes, wonderful things.” Tutankhamen’s burial chambers were filled with statues made of ivory, items made of gold and precious jewellery.

In a treasure chest, Carter discovered a large pectoral, a breastplate decorated with gold, silver, various precious jewels and a strange gemstone, that the pharao wears across his chest. The breastplate shows the god Ra as a winged scarab, made from a yellow-green gemstone, carrying the celestial bark with the Sun and the Moon into the sky.

Carter identified the gemstone at first as chalcedony, a common variety of the mineral quartz. In 1932 the British geographer Patrick Clayton was exploring the Great Sand Sea along the border of modern Egypt and Libya. Here he discovered some strange pieces of glass in the sand.

This Yellow Egyptian Glass Was Forged by a Meteorite Impact 29 Million Years Ago
Tutankhamun’s breastplate features a scarab carved from Libyan Desert Silica Glass
King Tut’s tomb included an artifact called a pectoral, which incorporated a piece of Libyan Desert Glass as the scarab beetle at its center.

The yellow-green material seemed to be identical to the gemstone found in Tutankhamen’s tomb. Two years later he published a short note, suggesting that the pieces of glass were the quartz-rich deposits of a completely dried up lake.

In 1998, Italian mineralogist Vincenzo de Michele analyzed the optical properties of the gemstone in King Tut’s breastplate and confirmed that it was indeed a piece of Libyan Desert Silica Glass, as the material is nowadays called. Libyan Desert Glass consists of almost pure silicon dioxide, like quartz, but its crystal structure is different. 

It also contains traces of unusual elements, like iron, nickel, chromium, cobalt and iridium. It is among the rarest minerals on Earth, as it is found only in the Great Sand Sea north of the Gilf Kebir Plateau, one of the most remote and desolate areas in the Libyan Desert.

Piece of Lybian Desert Glass.

The origin of the desert glass has long remained a mystery. Glass forms naturally when molten rock material cools so rapidly that atoms are unable to arrange themselves into a crystalline structure. 

Obsidian is a natural glass that forms when lava from a volcano rapidly cools and solidifies. However, no extinct volcano can be found near the site where the desert glass occurs. Tektites are natural glass formed when the debris of a meteorite impact is ejected high into Earth’s atmosphere, where the molten debris will rapidly cool and solidify into glass spherules. 

Tektites have been found across Asia, Australia and as far away as Antarctica. However, no impact crater associated with the desert glass is known in the Libyan Desert. In an alternative scenario proposed in 2013 a comet, composed mostly of ice, entering Earth’s atmosphere may have exploded mid-air above the desert.

The generated heat burst, an estimated 2,000°C, would be sufficient to melt the upper layers of the sand dunes, forming the desert glass, but without leaving a crater behind.

A new study published in the journal Geology refutes this scenario, claiming that an airburst alone wouldn’t be sufficient to explain the formation of the desert glass. The researchers analyzed grains of the mineral zircon found in the desert glass, discovering that the supposed zircon grains are actually a very rare mineral called reidite.

Reidite is chemically similar to zircon, however, displays a different, denser crystalline structure. Reidite forms only under very high pressure, es experienced during massive meteorite impacts. Reidite can’t form by the low pressure of an airburst. Airbursts, as the researchers argue, create shock waves in Earth’s atmosphere with pressures of some thousands of pascals.

During a meteorite impact, the shock waves in the ground can reach some billions of pascals, millions of times more powerful than any airburst. Only a meteorite impact on the ground, generating enough pressure to form the reidite and enough heat to melt the sand, can explain the stray field of desert glass fragments found in the Lybian Desert.

However, it remains unclear where the impact crater associated with the Lybian Desert Glass is located, even if radiometric dating suggests that the impact happened around 28 to 26 million years ago.

It’s also unclear how the desert glass became part of Tutankhamen’s treasures. Archaeological evidence suggests that an ancient system of caravan routes existed around the Gilf Kebir Plateau, but it doesn’t seem that the routes were used to search or trade for the desert glass.

It seems that the piece used for the scarab was discovered by chance or maybe an exotic gift. It remains the only known example where an Egyptian artist used this mysterious material.

Fort, Church, and Temple Remains Uncovered in Southern Egypt

Fort, Church, and Temple Remains Uncovered in Southern Egypt

Egypt Today reports that researchers from Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities have discovered traces of a temple dated to the Ptolemaic dynasty, a Roman fort, and part of a Coptic-period Christian church at the Shiha Fort site in southern Egypt. 

Egypt Today reports that researchers from Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities have discovered traces of a temple dated to the Ptolemaic dynasty, a Roman fort, and part of a Coptic-period Christian church at the Shiha Fort site in southern Egypt.
Remains of Aswan Roman Fort

The Supreme Council of Antiquities’ Egyptian archaeological mission, operating at the Shiha fort site in Aswan Governorate, has recently discovered the remains of a Roman fort that includes the remains of a church from the early Coptic era, and the remains of a temple from the Ptolemaic period.

Inside the fort, a group of architectural elements of the Ptolemaic temple were discovered; an incomplete sandstone panel, with a model of the temple entrance and a man in the form of a Roman emperor standing next to an altar topped by a part of a deity depicted on it; in addition to four blocks of sandstone with palm fronds engraved on them.

Part of the discovery in Aswan

Also, a clay vase and part of a red brick vault dating back to the Coptic era were found, as well as cartridges of Ptolemaic kings, late hieratic inscriptions and one of the Greek emperors.

The expedition has completed the work of uncovering the remains of the monastery and the church that were built on the ruins of this fort. The German archaeologist Hermann Juncker was able to previously uncover a part of the fort in the period 1920-1922 AD.

Part of the discovery in Aswan

The mission revealed the extension of the remnants of the mud-brick wall surrounding the Shiha church from the western side, reaching a width of approximately 2.10 m.

On the northern side of the church, there are four rooms, a transverse hall, and an ascending staircase. On the southern side, there are ovens for burning pottery.

Stone tiles were also found on two levels located on the eastern side below the church.

Egyptian pyramids found by infra-red satellite images

Egyptian pyramids found by infra-red satellite images

When Egypt was conquered by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798, he took along with his vast army more than 150 scientists and scholars. The scholars fanned out throughout Egypt, explaining the natural and cultural history of the land, mapping archaeological sites from Alexandria to Aswan, and bringing for the first time the scientific world to the attention of places such as the Valley of the Kings.

This week, an American research team announced that it has succeeded in a high-tech follow-on to Bonaparte’s grand survey. By analyzing high-resolution satellite imagery covering all of Egypt, researchers have reportedly discovered up to 17 lost pyramids, nearly 3000 ancient settlements, and 1000 tombs.

The effort was led by archaeologist Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama, Birmingham. The team’s work will be highlighted in a BBC documentary in the United Kingdom and later on the Discovery Channel in the United States.

Satellite imagery reveals a maze of streets and buildings at the ancient Egyptian city of Tanis.
An infra-red satellite image shows a buried pyramid, located in the centre of the highlight box.

The findings are groundbreaking, says Egyptologist Willeke Wendrich of the University of California, Los Angeles, who has followed closely the team’s as-yet-unpublished work. “It gives us the opportunity to get at the settlement of ancient Egypt without digging even a centimetre,” she says.

In the wake of the finds, the Egyptian government reached an agreement this week to work with Parcak and other American researchers to develop a nationwide satellite imagery project to monitor archaeological sites from space and protect them from looting and illegal house construction and other encroachments.

A satellite image shows a field of what may be buried pyramid sites in Egypt.

“We are going to be teaching young Egyptians how to look at the satellite data and analyze it so they can keep an eye on these sites,” Parcak says. She and her colleagues plan to raise funds privately to support the effort.

Parcak began her study 11 years ago, searching for traces of ancient village walls buried under Egypt’s fields and desert sands.

Obtaining images from both NASA and QuickBird satellites, she combined and analyzed data from the visible imagery as well as the infrared and thermal parts of the light spectrum. Through trial and error, she discovered that the most informative images were taken during the relatively wet weeks of late winter.

During this period, buried mud-brick walls absorbed more moisture than usual, producing a subtle chemical signature in the overlying soil that showed up in high-resolution, infrared satellite images. These places became “our hot spots, the places that we could end up exploring on foot,” Parcak says.

Sarah Parcak examines satellite imagery of an Egyptian landscape.

The team found 17 buried pyramid-shaped structures, including one at Saqqara, famed for its numerous pyramids. That sighting was confirmed by a team of Egyptian archaeologists who excavated part of what is now thought to be a late Middle Kingdom pyramid at the site.

The other 16 structures look like pyramids from space but could be elite tombs, Parcak says. “Let’s be honest, we won’t know if those pyramids are pyramids until we excavate,” she says.

To further test some of the most recent satellite finds, Parcak enlisted the help of a French archaeological team already digging at a 3000-year-old site known as Tanis.

The satellite data revealed a warren of mud-brick walls, mazelike streets, and large residences that may have housed the wealthy. So the French team chose a structure from the images and excavated there. Beneath about 30 centimetres of sediments, they discovered mud-brick walls.

“They found an almost 100% correlation between what we see on the imagery and what we see on the ground,” Parcak says. “So this gives a significant amount of credence to what we see in the whole image.”

“It’s really incredible work, particularly the results for Tanis,” says Peter Lacovara, an Egyptologist at the Michael C. Carlos Museum in Atlanta, who is not a member of Parcak’s team. “You can see the entire city plan under the sands.”

The greatest payoff may become apparent in years to come, adds Lacovara, as the Egyptian government develops a space-based archaeological monitoring system founded on satellite data.

“Ancient sites are all over the place in Egypt,” Lacovara concludes. “And there’s just not enough time and money to monitor them on the ground.”