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Good Reads  History & Other Humanities  Archaeology

Archaeology from Space How the Future Shapes Our Past

Popular Science
By: Sarah H Parcak(Author)
286 pages, 8 plates with colour photos and colour illustrations; b/w photos, b/w illustrations, b/w maps
Publisher: Henry Holt
Archaeology from Space is a wonderful, inspiring and remarkably engaging book showing how remote sensing by satellite is transforming archaeology.
Archaeology from Space
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  • Archaeology from Space ISBN: 9781250231345 Paperback Nov 2020 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 2-4 weeks
  • Archaeology from Space ISBN: 9781250198280 Hardback Jul 2019 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 2-4 weeks
Selected version: £19.99
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About this book

National Geographic Explorer and TED Prize-winner Dr. Sarah Parcak welcomes you to the exciting new world of space archaeology, a growing field that is sparking extraordinary discoveries from ancient civilizations across the globe.

In Archaeology from Space, Sarah Parcak shows the evolution, major discoveries, and future potential of the young field of satellite archaeology. From surprise advancements after the declassification of spy photography, to a new map of the mythical Egyptian city of Tanis, she shares her field's biggest discoveries, revealing why space archaeology is not only exciting, but urgently essential to the preservation of the world's ancient treasures.

Parcak has worked in twelve countries and four continents, using multispectral and high-resolution satellite imagery to identify thousands of previously unknown settlements, roads, fortresses, palaces, tombs, and even potential pyramids. From there, her stories take us back in time and across borders, into the day-to-day lives of ancient humans whose traits and genes we share. And she shows us that if we heed the lessons of the past, we can shape a vibrant future.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • Inspiring and remarkably engaging
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 5 Aug 2019 Written for Hardback

    What is better than archaeology? How about space archaeology. More properly known as remote sensing by satellite, the use of satellite imagery has set the field or archaeology alight. And professor of anthropology Sarah Parcak is one of its most enthusiastic torch-bearers. In a book that overflows with wonder, honesty, and hope, she takes the reader on a grand tour of remote sensing, showing how it is transforming this discipline.

    I first touched on this topic in my review of Tropical Forests in Prehistory, History, and Modernity, which mentioned the use of LiDAR to reveal the scope of jungle ruins. You will have been hard-pressed to miss these findings making news headlines. The rationale behind remote sensing is simple, says Parcak: Where do you begin? Given that, at the surface, many archaeological sites are covered under either sand, jungle, or modern infrastructure, how do you know what lurks beneath? And how do you even begin to decide where to dig? You would be surprised what you can see from the air.

    Ever since we had cameras, hot air balloons, and the first aeroplanes, aerial photography became a thing. More concerted efforts came in the 1950s with the development of infrared technology and the spy satellite programmes of the Cold War, and in the ’60s with NASA launching satellites. But space archaeology had to wait until technological developments allowed for high-resolution images. That moment arrived in the 2000s and everything has gone a bit crazy since then.

    The central part of Archaeology from Space is a mind-blowing tour of archaeological digs where remote sensing was involved. Parcak is an Egyptologist by training but has also worked on sites in Iceland, The Shetland Islands, Italy, and Newfoundland. And she provides an overview of some of the most spectacular finds others have made.

    It is hard to overstate the significance of this technology. Take Tanis, a well-known site in Egypt. Where two centuries of work on the ground have focused on temples, tombs, and pyramids, Parcak inspected satellite images that revealed the whole city! Work on Easter Island, meanwhile, is overturning the long-held assumption that the Polynesians caused their own demise by cutting down their forests. Instead, introduced diseases by European explorers are to blame (see also The Statues that Walked). And the use of LiDAR in the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Central America has to date mapped more than 60,000 buildings (a finding Parcak calls insane). Particularly memorable is the story of archaeologist Arlen Chase, who found more ancient Maya sites in one night of feverishly inspecting satellite imagery than he had in 30 years working in the jungle. Probably the most important topic she tackles is wide-scale looting. In an era where online platforms such as eBay feed through to many potential buyers, there is scope for a massive black market. But here, too, satellite imagery has a role to play.

    Despite the potential of this technology, Parcak is quick to recognise its limitations. Every potentially interesting site you identify needs to be ground-truthed with fieldwork. Even for a trained eye, it is easy to make mistakes, dismissing sites that are worthwhile or chasing phantoms that turn out to be false positives. With disarming honesty, Parcak tells of some of her biggest howlers. In the process, she reveals just what is involved in overseeing an excavation.

    Midway the book she takes an unexpected step back from remote sensing. She combines the fictionalised life story of a woman in ancient Egypt with what we know about the transition of its Old Kingdom to its Middle Kingdom about 2200-2000 BC. This is Parcak’s home turf and her knowledgeable account is interesting, but I could not help but feel it broke the flow of the book a bit. Her next piece of fiction – picturing how an archaeologist in 2119 might go about things, complete with swarms of nano-drones and other futuristic archaeotech – is a relevant exercise in imagination, however.

    See, archaeology now faces the same problem as e.g. genomics and astronomy that routinely reel in data by the tera- and petabytes: big data. It has never been easier to acquire more information than you could hope to process in several lifetimes. For the first time, we actually have tools to get to grips with the scale of what remains to be discovered. The estimated guesses Parcak gives are mind-boggling, but she revels in impossible odds. She is a dreamer, and I mean that in the best possible sense of the word. Technology is developing at a break-neck pace, allowing things we could not have imagined a few decades ago. Does anyone else remember that article where X-ray imaging was used to read charred papyrus sheets that were too fragile to unroll? Exactly. Suddenly her speculations on hyperspectral imaging and machine learning do not sound that implausible anymore.

    And there is one other avenue Parcak has already bravely explored: crowdsourcing. She tells how, having won the million-dollar TED prize in 2016, she founded GlobalXplorer. This online, citizen-science platform allows anyone with an internet connection to help out locating sites of archaeological interest on satellite imagery. The response to the opening campaign was overwhelming and revealed many new and genuinely interesting sites. But Parcak dreams big. This is the woman who would have us map the entire world in the next ten years using this approach. What a hero.

    One reviewer faulted the book for not talking enough about the technical details. Given that Parcak has authored the textbook Satellite Remote Sensing for Archaeology that gives you all the technical details you could want, this book is not the place for that. Even so, she explains why and how underground structures show up in satellite imagery (plant growth can be affected by what is buried underground, leading to visible crop marks), goes into some detail about hyperspectral imaging, and explains how seasonality and weather can influence your results.

    It is true that Parcak sometimes goes off-script to talk about things close to her heart. Next to her chapter about historical Egypt, one chapter discusses the underrepresentation of women in archaeology. Seems like a very understandable and important diversion to me. I admit that I found some of her jokes borderline silly (they probably work wonderfully as one-liners in a presentation), but I had a lot of fun reading this book.

    Archaeology from Space is a remarkably inspiring book, full of wonder and hope, buoyed by Parcak’s boundless enthusiasm and love for her profession. Harrison Ford might be too old to inspire a new generation of archaeologists as Indiana Jones, but he can safely pass his fedora on to Sarah Parcak.
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Sarah Parcak is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, CEO of Globalxplorer, and Director of the Joint Mission to Lisht (Egypt). Her remote sensing work has been the focus of three BBC specials covering Egypt, ancient Rome, and the Vikings. She is a Fellow in the Society of Antiquaries, a 2014 TED Senior Fellow, the winner of the 2016 TED Prize, and a National Geographic Fellow.

Popular Science
By: Sarah H Parcak(Author)
286 pages, 8 plates with colour photos and colour illustrations; b/w photos, b/w illustrations, b/w maps
Publisher: Henry Holt
Archaeology from Space is a wonderful, inspiring and remarkably engaging book showing how remote sensing by satellite is transforming archaeology.
Media reviews

"This is a fascinating glimpse into a young field just as its technological possibilities are exploding. Yet the book is less about space archaeology than about Parcak herself [...] This personal approach allows Parcak to recount enchanting details [...] At times, however, the book becomes more a list of pet interests than a coherent story. It's a shame that the key topic of remote sensing often fades into the background, with frustratingly little detail given about some of the imaging technologies."
– Jo Marchant, Nature 570(7762), June 2019

"A renowned space archaeologist gives readers an insider's look at her field, which is basically Indiana Jones meets cutting-edge satellite technology. It's every bit as exciting as it sounds [...] In this fascinating adventure memoir [...] Parcak has a lot of great stories to tell, and she tells them with clarity, enthusiasm, and humor [...] Exciting and futuristic, this book elicits that anything-is-possible feeling – a must-read."
Kirkus Reviews, *starred review*

"Her writing is full of evocative anecdotes and personal insights gleaned from years of experience in dusty trenches as well as behind the computer screen, poring over satellite images [...] Throughout the book, Parcak's love for her work and the people she studies is evident, and her enthusiasm is contagious. From Vikings in Iceland and Canada to amphitheaters in Italy and back to her first love, pharaonic Egypt, she brings both the present and the past to life."
Science Magazine

"Parcak's book provides a revelatory look at an exciting new field."
Publishers Weekly

"This book is so much more than the memoir of a dedicated archaeologist – it's an open invitation for all of us to become explorers. She has pioneered crowd source archaeology, and shows how we can join her on the adventures of discovery that we've always dreamed about."
– Peter Jackson, Academy Award-winning director

"Clear, accessible and fascinating, peppered with witty asides and informative photos, Archaeology From Space is an excellent introduction to an exciting subfield that's still flying under the (satellite) radar."
Shelf Awareness

"Parcak is an extremely engaging writer and has done a lot of very interesting stuff [...] Parcak shares enough of herself to entrance anyone who shares her Indiana Jones dreams, while elucidating the exciting new field of satellite archaeology. This is a thoroughly delightful and downright fascinating work of popular science."

"I once had the privilege of accompanying Sarah Parcak on an archaeological dig in Lisht, Egypt. It was an adventure straight out of the movies. In Archaeology From Space, Parcak takes readers on a similar adventure, at once down to earth and out of this world. With wit and breezy elegance, she takes you around the world, back in time and out into space. She's a time traveler and a captivating writer."
– Bill Whitaker, 60 Minutes

"Sarah Parcak is a scientist, an historian, and an explorer – but above all, she is a writer. Her work illuminates our past, and in so doing, helps us to understand our future. Lively, generous, and inspiring."
– Jennifer Finney Boylan, author of She's Not There and Long Black Veil

"A crash course in the amazing new science of space archaeology that only Sarah Parcak can give. This book will awaken the explorer in all of us."
– Chris Anderson, Head of TED

"Divining clues about what's hidden beneath the earth from satellites high above, Parcak takes the reader on a worldwide adventure through our shared and ancient past. With delightful wit, infectious wonder, and a big dose of wisdom about where we're headed, she offers anyone with a computer the chance to become a virtual Indiana Jones."
– Juli Berwald, author of Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone

"Part memoir, part pop-history, Sarah Parcak's writing bursts with enthusiasm and illuminates her pioneering research that seems more like science fiction than the hard science it is. Reading this book makes me want to become a space archaeologist!"
– Steve Brusatte, University of Edinburgh paleontologist and author of the New York Times bestseller The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs

"Fun and informative, full of interesting nuggets and personal anecdotes from the brightest star in space archaeology, this is a book unlike any other. Highly recommended!"
– Eric Cline, author of 1177 BC

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