Looking Back: Unessay Project Overview

The goal of my Unessay Project: Surveying Among the Stars: Account of an emerging technology, under review, was to examine current literature with a critical lens whilst learning about current developments in the world of Archaeology. The basis of my research was rooted in the book, Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes our Past by Sarah Parcak. Parcak’s publication stands as a testimony to the incredible possibilities of the field of space Archaeology.
The culmination of this venture I undertook was a book review blog post.

ARCHAEOLOGY FROM SPACE: HOW THE FUTURE SHAPES OUR PAST, by Sarah Parcak, 2019, Henry Holt and Co., New York, NY, 283 pages, $14.99 (Hardcover), $14.99 (Kindle).

To explain why this for my Unessay project, I will start by saying: I love reading. Through inquiry for book recommendations, one of my awesome professors, a renowned contemporary archaeologist, answered my plea. Parcak’s book was indeed on her list. After searching the title, reading the summary, and conducting preliminary research in the field (findings, its history), I came across mention of  its employment in “espionage”. I was, to say the least: VERY intrigued. For those that did not know me as a child, I was at one point, along with wanting to be a baker and ballerina, wanted to be a Spy (thank you, Mr. Robert Rodriguez). As I am now pursuing nursing – and further understanding the realness of danger that surrounds the field (and my inability to really keep a secret, or to lie), one can safely assume that this occupational prospect is behind me. But, indeed Parcak made me pause and reminisce this time of my life (see Declassified Satellite Imagery-1). Beyond this particular fascination: having always been dazzled by the stars, interested in learning about technological advancements, the concept of mapping, and lastly, research, I was pretty much sold. This book is relevant as it covers contemporary methods that in which not only uncover ancient sites, but also redefine current understandings/assumptions. In doing this project and related research I hoped to gain a better understanding of the current and emerging technological ventures.

In my research I learned about numerous methods employed through the usage of space archaeology. Furthermore, I learned of instances of their application as well as the fruit of those labors. Every piece of the harvest, whether it being the uncovering of walls (Parcak 2019: 54), unearthing of carnelian (59), or new iteration of a past history (60), was poignant. These pieces, resulting from either preliminary Google Earth “traverses”, processing, then reprocessing of satellite data, or from examining satellite databases for local imagery after poring over numerous regional excavation and survey reports (54-55), although intensive, was able to cut down time, energy and resource expenditure, and overall “guesswork”. That being said, it must be noted that these are just a few findings across only a tiny fraction of this work.
In the closing sentence of her introduction she says:

“Perhaps it is a start to understanding what makes us human: our ability to ask how, where, when, why, and who, and creating the tools we need to bring the answers to life, on Earth, looking down from outer space”

(Sarah Parcak 2019:9)

When first reading, I found this statement quite “hopeful”. But from the trove of testaments that in which I was able to read for myself (and hope you would consider reading for yourself), this proposition seems less like idealized speculation, and more like a claim rooted in reason. 

As my Final Unessay Project’s final form was a book review blog post, I approached it through a critical lens, engaging in strategies to develop my critical reading and evaluating skills. As I read this book and came across methods, locations, histories, or peoples that I knew very little to zilch about, I found myself digging deeper than usual into sources. Where I would once stop at a dictionary or a webpage, I looked into textbooks, government-based articles, databases and news sources. I linked a number of them in my blog post along with accompanying images. If your knowledge base was “premature” as mine was, hopefully they will prove useful, and/or interesting to you.

In the end, I took away a deeper, greater, more-informed interest in the emerging field that is space archaeology. I came away with a stronger skill/tool set of critical reading and evaluation strategies, and greater familiarity with archaeological research and writing. Furthermore, in learning of all of the long-employed as well as novel-innovated archaeological methods of archaeologists, I came away with a greater understanding and appreciation of the work, the players, and the implications of the field.

Bibliography

Cherrington, Emil and et al.
Use of public Earth observation data for tracking progress in sustainable management of coastal forest ecosystems in Belize, Central America. Remote Sensing of Environment Elsevier 245(111798) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rse.2020.111798

Declassified Data – Declassified Satellite Imagery – 1 1960-1972. EROS Archive. USGS, United States.

DiBiase, David
2009 11. Multispectral Imaging from Space. Courseware Module, https://www.e-education.psu.edu/natureofgeoinfo/node/1899

Fitoka, Eleni and et al.
2020 Water-related ecosystems mapping and assessment based on remote sensing  techniques and geospatial analysis: The SWOS national service case of the Greek Ramsar sites and their catchments. Remote Sensing of Environment. Elsevier 245(111795) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rse.2020.111795

Handwerk, Brian
 2009-2015 “Lost City” of Tanis. National Geographic. Web Page. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/archaeology/tanis-egypt/#close

Estrin, James
2011 The Classified Photos, The Art of Surveillance. New York Times. Web Page. https://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/18/in-classified-photos-the-art-of-surveillance/?mtrref=www.google.com&register=facebook

Lem, Pola
2017 Peering through the Sands of Time: Searching for the Origins of Space Archaeology. NASA: Earth Observatory.

Parcak, Sarah
2019 Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past. New York. Henry Holt and Co.

Surveying among the stars: Account of an emerging technology, under review

BOOK REVIEW by Victoria Ann Toribio Tirado

Image of Sarah Parcak's book - Archaeology From Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past.
ARCHAEOLOGY FROM SPACE: HOW THE FUTURE SHAPES OUR PAST, by Sarah Parcak, 2019, Henry Holt and Co., New York, NY, 283 pages, $14.99 (Hardcover), $14.99 (Kindle).

The topic of satellite/space archaeology is – reportedly – a revolutionary, emerging technology and field of study in Contemporary Archaeology. It is of seemingly great relevance today for its potential and recorded uses in the study of earth’s landscape. It is said to have major implications on the study of those that have, are, and will reside upon it.

Sketch of the Landsat 1 satellite – the first ever Earth-observing satellite meant to monitor our planet’s landmasses. (1972)


LAUNCHPAD

According to the author,

“Perhaps it is a start to understanding what makes us human: our ability to ask how, where, when, why, and who, and creating the tools we need to bring the answers to life, on Earth, looking down from outer space.”

(Sarah Parcak 2019:9)

Evaluating this book with a critical lens resting upon the author’s accounts of personal experiences, the field’s methods and the proposed discoveries, Tirado guides the reader through a review of the book’s structural elements: author credibility, literary methods, perspectives and supporting evidence presented, and book organization and elements. This lens takes the form of crosscheck analysis.

THE SOLAR CELL

Sarah Parcak, an Egyptologist by specialty, and professor of archaeology by occupation, works within the realms of what the public may render as being reminiscent of science fiction or spy novel-plots. She is known as a trailblazer in her field and has greatly contributed to the course of its impact thus far. Her reality is comparative to that of Gandalf (see also Gandalf the Gray) in search of answers in the archives of Minas Tirith – intensive and extensive. “Between cutting-edge satellite data and classic fieldwork” she works on her “minimalist lab” (her heavy-duty, “ancient” laptop) to examine findings taken by satellite imagery and other remote sensing tools. Via sometimes satellite and hyper-spectral camera data, she looks for subtle differentiation in landscape, that is – “topography, geology and plant life.” Her work has virtually transported her from her “lab” in Birmingham, Alabama to places such as: Egypt, Romania, Kenya and Newfoundland to name only several. Upon these landscapes, she renders city grids, incredible maps that are astoundingly revealing. Perhaps her most famous uncovering was the city grid of the City of Tanis (see: “Lost City” of Tanis). Uncovering sites other professional excavators have missed, she has shaken the dust, now being called upon to begin and embark upon projects  where she is satellite-mapping entire countries (e.g., a crowd-sourcing project known as GlobalXplorer, Peru). In academia, she has published numerous peer-reviewed scientific papers and has been featured in a number of documentaries and talks across renowned networks such as BBC, PBS and TED.com. She is also a TED Senior Fellow, National Geographic Explorer (2012-present) and founder of the Laboratory of Global Observation at the University of Alabama: Birmingham.

Parcak, Sarah H. . Archaeology from Space (p. 88, 89, 97). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition

Another book she has published includes Satellite Remote Sensing for Archaeology (2009).

SENSING

Using a Descriptive literary method/style, she brings forth scenes and events that which appeal to our imaginations. She recalls immersive anecdotes of her experiences, such as flying over Egypt the first time, the sometimes groan-provoking experience of computer program crashes whilst conducting remote sensing work; the rush of making new archaeological finds through satellite imaging and remote sensing technologies. In these stories, she relates to the reader (Senatori 2017) and engages the readers’ senses as well as emotions. She situates the field within its past, across the globe, and in its interdisciplinary span of persons and procedures.

ANALYZING

From Chapter 1 to the concluding paragraph of Chapter 12, the author’s pursuit/thesis stands as a success with no small amount of awe and excitement from one of its readers (me). Through a first-person perspective, she touches upon different sides of the “Space Archaeology” debate, addressing it with experiences, procedural breakdowns, an interspersing of visual aids, and no shortage of historical and contemporary references – from Howard Carter (discoverer of King Tut’s Tomb) to Doug Bolender (archaeologist in search of Viking settlements in the landscapes of Iceland). Also notable is that supporting evidence used has been used to explain even her mistakes in discernment. One such case was of Papa Stour where upon analyzing dashed lines on a spectral image, that there was probably nothing more than a modern pipeline. But what came to be was an elite’s Viking structure! This book brings attention the great possibility in further research with potentially increased efficiency and even accuracy (Parcak 2019: 6), presented through cases where technologies of this young field were employed (e.g., Infrared and Color Technology — CORONA Data sets (35-36); NASA — TIROS satellites (36); multispectral scanners — ERTS-1/Landsat-1(37), WorldView-2(92-94), Landsat 7 (236), Quickbird (273)).

SPANNING OUT: Looking at the “Back Matter”

Acknowledgments: Parcak thanks every person, agency and organization that which worked with her and/or contributed to her work. Some of the agencies and she references includes Abrams Artists Agency, Holt, the Ministry of Antiquities in Egypt, the Tuesday Agency, DigitalGlobe, and funding Agencies. For organizations, she address GlobalXplorer, National Geographic, Young Global Leaders, Ministry of Culture, and Sustainable Preservation Initiative. As for people – editors, families, coworkers, her chairmen, her TED Fellow family and team, friends and supporters at home and abroad as well (from Birmingham to India, Peru, United Kingdom, Canada and Newfoundland).
Parcak also includes an area for Photos, a thorough Index, an About the Author section, a Newsletter Sign-Up page and a Copyright notice.
Beyond this, looking at her Notes, there is nothing short of 28 pages of references (hyperlinks also available if you access the Kindle version).

BACK TO HOME BASE

Looking critically at her work from a literary standpoint, her descriptive style and narrative cadence made it easy for a range of readers to access and relate to her work. I did not happen to come across any grammatical errors and would say the editors did a grand job with making sure they didn’t go to print (if any were made in the first place). The organization was also very helpful and reasonably executed – as archaeologists indeed aim to embody in their work.
Bringing this altogether, with its storytelling cadence and fortification of numerous references, this book packs quite the awesome punch. Her presentation of findings and supporting evidence, covering personal and verifiable experiences of challenge and practical problem solving, rounds out to a very cool read – a tour de force and showcase that there is so much to see, to learn and understand on the horizon – that which could perhaps begin with looking down from outer space. In a perhaps poignant way, in her book she speaks of a takeaway after attending the first international conference on satellite archaeology in Beijing, China:

My extraordinary colleagues at the conference had opened my eyes to a broader archaeological world – one of collaboration, encouragement, and cheering on, and they showed me that there’s a big planet to map and plenty of discoveries to go around.

Sarah Parcak, 2019: 41

For more of Sarah Parcak’s work:
GlobalXplorer | Satellite Remote Sensing for Archaeology (2009)
PBS NOVA Special: Vikings Unearthed
BBC Documentary: Rome’s Lost Empire
TED 2012, 2016, 2017

REFERENCES AND RELATED READING

BIOS N.d. “Howard Carter.” History website. Accessed [June 11, 2020]. https://bit.ly/37pog6W

Cherrington, Emil and et al.
Use of public Earth observation data for tracking progress in sustainable management of coastal forest ecosystems in Belize, Central America. Remote Sensing of Environment Elsevier 245(111798) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rse.2020.111798

Crawford, Barbara and Ballin-Smith, Beverley
1978 A Progress Report of the First Season’s Excavation at “Da Biggins,” Papa Stour, Shetland Edinburgh, Scottish Society for Northern Studies. Google Book.

Declassified Data – Declassified Satellite Imagery – 1 1960-1972. EROS Archive. USGS, United States. Web Page. https://on.doi.gov/3hpEfqf

DiBiase, David
2009 11. Multispectral Imaging from Space. Courseware Module, https://bit.ly/30zhwCe

Fitoka, Eleni and et al.
2020 Water-related ecosystems mapping and assessment based on remote sensing techniques and geospatial analysis: The SWOS national service case of the Greek Ramsar sites and their catchments. Remote Sensing of Environment. Elsevier 245(111795) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rse.2020.111795

Handwerk, Brian
 2009-2015 “Lost City” of Tanis. National Geographic. Web Article. https://on.natgeo.com/2AAzbij

Estrin, James
2011 The Classified Photos, The Art of Surveillance. New York Times. Web Article. https://nyti.ms/2Yvylvc

Masek, Jeffrey and Taylor, Michael.
N.d. Landsat 1, Landsat Science. NASA. Web Page. https://go.nasa.gov/2YxlKHN

Lem, Pola
2017 Peering through the Sands of Time: Searching for the Origins of Space Archaeology. NASA: Earth Observatory. https://go.nasa.gov/3dZfkYz

Parcak, Sarah
2019 Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past. New York. Henry Holt and Co. Kindle Edition.

Senatori, Bella
2017 The Importance of Anecdotes in Writing. Oregon, The Franklin Post. Web Article. https://bit.ly/3hjyJFL

Tucker, Abigail
2016 Space Archaeologist Sarah Parcak Uses Satellites to Uncover Ancient Egyptian Ruins. Smithsonian Magazine. Web Page. https://bit.ly/2UG6W8I

Weisberger, Mindy
2019 Code-Name ‘Corona’ : Earliest Spy-Satellite Images Reveal Secrets of Ancient Middle East. LiveScience. Web page. https://bit.ly/2C7wUM5