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Egyptologists discover 17 new pyramids

University of Alabama researchers tell the BBC that they’ve located 17 more lost pyramids, plus 1,000 tombs and more than 3,000 ancient Egyptian settlements.

There are over 100 pyramids known in Egypt. Most are known only to academics and other specialists. Now researchers at the University of Alabama have told the BBC that they’ve located 17 more lost pyramids, plus 1,000 tombs and more than 3,000 ancient Egyptian settlements. These buried structures will be featured in a new BBC documentary that will premiere on May 30, 2011.

Researchers found the structures using state-of-the-art infrared cameras riding aboard Earth-orbiting satellites – peering down from more than 600 kilometers (400 miles). The technique lets the researchers pinpoint ancient ruins underground. In fact, the researchers say, the infrared vision of cameras used in this work can pinpoint objects less than a meter (3 feet) wide.

Other scientists have already confirmed two of the newly rediscovered pyramids. Some researchers are saying there might be thousands more unknown sites in Egypt.

Dr. Sarah Parcack, who led the survey, told the BBC:

I could see the data as it was emerging, but for me the “aha!” moment was when I could step back and look at everything that we’d found. I couldn’t believe we could locate so many sites all over Egypt.

How can they see the remains of these structures? Buildings in ancient Egypt were constructed out of mud brick. It is a dense material – different from surrounding soil – and therefore discernible. In essence, mud bricks created by people thousands of years ago have left fingerprints that today’s researchers can identify as pyramids, tombs, or homes. It’s possible to see the shapes of houses, temples, and tombs.

Ancient city of Tanis in Egypt - as seen via infrared technology - now buried underground.

The image above shows the ancient Egyptian city of Tanis. The Alabama researchers’ infrared camera revealed these structures, which look similar to the shapes found in modern cities viewed from above. Dr. Parcak told the BBC her most exciting moment was visiting the excavations at Tanis.

They’d excavated a 3,000-year-old house that the satellite imagery had shown and the outline of the structure matched the satellite imagery almost perfectly. That was real validation of the technology.

BBC cameras followed Dr. Parcak as she traveled to Egypt to see if excavations could back up what her technology could see under the surface. They created a BBC documentary – Egypt’s Lost Cities – which will premiere May 30, 2011.

The Age of the Pyramids reached its zenith at Giza in 2575-2150 B.C. The image below is Giza today.

Giza in Egypt, today. Photo taken May 8, 2009. (Wikimedia Commons)

Dr. Parcack told the BBC she believes the breakthrough find of 17 new pyramids buried beneath Egyptian sands is a huge coup for the burgeoning science of space archaeology. She said she believes this is only the beginning, even hinting further finds could be buried deep below the Nile River.

Read more from the BBC: Egyptian pyramids found by infrared satellite images

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