Ask an Archaeologist: Dr. Farouk El-Baz

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For this week’s episode of Ask an Archaeologist we sat down with Dr. Farouk El-Baz, the Director of Boston University’s Center for Remote Sensing.  Dr. Farouk has been on of the leaders in using Remote Sensing in Archaeology and we knew he would be the right specialist to answer one of the questions we received at National Archaeology Day:

What do older professional archaeologists think of the use of Google or satellite images to make discoveries?

We followed up by asking Dr. Farouk:

What is Remote Sensing and how is it used in Archaeology?

How has Remote Sensing changed the field of Archaeology?

“Archaeologists…in the 60’s began thinking about aerial photography as something that they could use in thinking about the terrain and where there might be archaeological sites,” Dr. Farouk told us, explaining that using remote sensing techniques is not very new to archaeology and does not necessarily mean seeing obvious sites from space.  “If there were human beings that were grouped together …the conditions for like must be there.  Meaning, where did they get the water?  Where did they build their city?  What did they build it with? All of these things depend on the natural setting.”  While some satellite photography may display more obvious sites, a good archaeologist may notice an area that would have been excellent to support human life and consider that as a potential site.

“Remote sensing is basically satellite photography,”  Dr. Farouk told us when explaining remote sensing in archaeology.  Different materials project light and temperature differently allowing satellites to see the differences between materials on the Earth’s surface.  “If you have a building, it will behave differently from the soil or sand,” Dr. Farouk said, making it easier to detect archaeological sites on satellite images.  As scientists developed radar imaging, they could see under the Earth’s surface so that archaeologists could see waterways that had since dried up but may have supported human life in the past.

As technology evolves, archaeologists have new ways to find sites so that we can learn more about our past in new and exciting ways.
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