Episode 9- Egypt’s Lost Cities (AKA Space Archaeology)

‘Egypt’s Lost Cities’ was first broadcast over a year ago but it’s good to see it being repeated because its subject matter is nothing short of incredible. For one thing it introduces the world to the field of space archaeology and anyone who doesn’t wish they were a space archaeologist is lying!

‘Egypt’s Lost Cities’ follows Dr. Sarah Parcak as she reveals thousands of unknown sites across Egypt using, primarily, satellite infrared thermal imaging. There is no denying that the results that her team (unfortunately for them most of the time they only mention Dr. Parcak) have got are truly impressive, although satellite thermal imaging has been around for decades, and had been used in archaeology for some time. Contrary to the information in the programme, these satellites do not see beneath the soil, and cannot detect different materials, but detect differences in stored heat. Being denser than the surrounding sand, mud brick and stone take longer to heat up and are thus colder.

All in all this programme is definitely inspiring, and it would be fantastic if this technique could work everywhere. Unfortunately this technique relies on archaeology with different thermal properties than the surrounding ground, and obviously this is not always the case. It is ideal for the grand exciting stuff that gets all the funding though, so that’s rather fortunate, because satellite images are very expensive.

Still, as ever the programme itself is not without problems. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m just too picky. The programme has barely started when Indiana Jones was mentioned, twice (and then again later), and everything is super dramatic with grand music and over produced CGI sequences that begin to get a bit grating by the end. I’m not sure why Jones needed to be mentioned, apart from in the context of the one piece of archaeology he ever does. There are also a host of silly comments such as the discovery of towns and villages revising the scale of ancient Egypt; surely people had to live somewhere after all, even if these places had not yet been discovered. Stupid comment of the week goes to the doctor herself, saying that a lost tomb is the Holy Grail of archaeology. I’m pretty sure that would be the Holy Grail actually, that would be a bit more of a find.

There’s also a few rather pointless bits, such as a random section about Tutankhamen and the pretence that they need to calculate the size of the pyramid they’d found from the caps in the museum, despite the fact that they had already measured it on the satellite imagery! They then do a reconstruction based on these measurements, but they have no idea what the pyramids looked like, they were not necessarily geometrically exact or clad after all; not all pyramids were.

All in all though ‘Egypt’s Lost Cities’ is definitely worth a watch, so go do it now, and get your space suit ready.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b011pwms/Egypts_Lost_Cities/

 

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