Trail of the Ark recently revealed promising progress in the search for learning more about a legendary tunnel, said to exist between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea vicinity. The next stage in the relentless search could come from deep space.

There are many recorded theories relating to such a tunnel being used to smuggle out significant Temple artefacts, in the hope of rescuing them from invading pagan forces. But the question of gaining an overview of the vast surrounding area between what might be one possible portal, in relation to its corresponding one many miles away is still a major challenge. Could other events prove to provide a window of opportunity to enhance prospects of making further more worthwhile discoveries?

Archaeology from space works

Sara Parcak has diligently been trying to uncover the ancient past in Egypt. She succeeded, probably beyond her wildest expectations, through the help of technology from a far more modern civilisation. Sara spoke to a large enthusiastic audience at a TED presentation.

Sara Parcak

“So I want to show you an example of how we see differently using the infrared. This is a site located in the eastern Egyptian delta called Mendes. And the site visibly appears brown, but when we use the infrared and we process it, all of the sudden, using false color, the site appears as bright pink. What you are seeing are the actual chemical changes to the landscape caused by the building materials and activities of the ancient Egyptians.”

But what were the tools that allowed her to make these important comparisons?

“What I want to share with you today is how we’ve used satellite data to find an ancient Egyptian city, called Itjtawy, missing for thousands of years. Itjtawy was ancient Egypt’s capital for over four hundred years, at a period of time called the Middle Kingdom, about four thousand years ago. The site is located in the Faiyum of Egypt, and the site is really important, because in the Middle Kingdom there was this great renaissance for ancient Egyptian art, architecture and religion.”

Combining ancient knowledge and modern technology

Just like our search for the lost Ark of the Covenant, Sara was also able to refer to existing research associated with relevant legends.

“Egyptologists have always known the site of Itjtawy was located somewhere near the pyramids of the two kings who built it.”

But surely, she couldn’t have been referring to a small geographical area.

“This area is huge – it’s four miles by three miles in size. The Nile used to flow right next to the city of Itjtawy, and as it shifted and changed and moved over time to the east, it covered over the city.”

She then went on to explain how she undertook this colossal task.

“So, how do you find a buried city in a vast landscape? Finding it randomly would be the equivalent of locating a needle in a haystack, blindfolded, wearing baseball mitts. So what we did is we used NASA topography data to map out the landscape, very subtle changes. We started to be able to see where the Nile used to flow. But you can see in more detail, and even more interesting, this very slight raised area seen within the circle up here which we thought could possibly be the location of the city of Itjtawy.”

The next step was to consult with local authorities.

“So we collaborated with Egyptian scientists to do coring work, which you see here. When I say coring, it’s like ice coring, but instead of layers of climate change, you’re looking for layers of human occupation. And, five meters down, underneath a thick layer of mud, we found a dense layer of pottery. What this shows is that at this possible location of Itjtawy, five meters down, we have a layer of occupation for several hundred years, dating to the Middle Kingdom, dating to the exact period of time we think Itjtawy is.” 

One would have thought that this could be an isolated find, but there even exists state of the art technology to further assist archaeological surveys, using satellite imagery. Let’s look at the following opportunities.

Technology becomes user friendly

“Welcome to the 21st-century world of space archaeology, in which culturally important ruins can be spotted and decoded via high-resolution images captured by Earth-orbiting satellites. And a platform called GlobalXplorer puts this experience at any user’s fingertips, inviting all who have internet connections to assist archaeologists in finding and protecting sites around the world, some of which are yet to be brought to light.”

This amazing technology also has the ability to prevent archaeological theft, which is rampant across the globe. But its potential to help users identify sites worthy of further investigation in the field has much to offer.

“By scanning “tiles” of the ground, users can identify and flag telltale signs of looting activity or unusual features that could represent an undiscovered structure, platform creator and space archaeologist Sarah Parcak announced at a press conference. Archaeologists and government agencies can then use this data to preserve sites that are in peril and to launch new excavations in unexplored areas, Parcak told reporters.” 

Why not use this technology in the Holy Land

Sadly a country so rich in ancient history is the least prepared to make use of this outstanding technology, at least for archaeological purposes that could greatly expedite the potential for even greater discoveries. The reason is simple. Israel faces a myriad of surrounding enemies that would use whatever means to destroy the nation. Accordingly, Israel’s defence industry maintains a vigorous counter espionage policy. One can easily imagine the interest from its more technical minded foes, to use satellite spying to map out where Israel’s strongest deterrents lie on the ground, in order to better attack such facilities.  

The US Congress’ Kyl-Bingaman amendment has protected Israel from exposure in high-resolution satellite images

A recent report in 2018, suggests that Israel skies would no longer be able to block out the efforts of prying eyes to use space technology.  

“Israel could soon lose its privileged status as the only country in the world to enjoy immunity from publicly available high resolution satellite imagery, potentially exposing details of secret military sites but opening up new fields of environmental and archaeological research.”

How could such an event happen?

“United States government records — not previously reported — reveal regulators at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are reviewing the implementation of a law that effectively prohibits the public dissemination of high-resolution satellite images of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

The 1997 law passed by the US Congress, known as the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment, means imagery of Israel has been actively ‘blurred’ even as satellite pictures of almost all other territories become sharper. While the legislation only refers to “Israel” it has also been implemented in the Palestinian territories. 

The amendment prevents US satellite imagery companies from selling pictures that are “no more detailed or precise than satellite imagery of Israel that is available from commercial sources.”

In practice, “commercial sources” has been interpreted to mean companies outside of the US that up until recently were not major players in the multi-billion dollar space industry.”

One could falsely assume that this could be a totally new move, but there are suggestions otherwise.

“NOAA advisory council over the past year show that the body’s Commercial Remote Sensory Regulatory Affairs office received evidence from two US companies that high resolution images of Israel are now widely available, triggering a long-overdue review into the enforcement of the Kyl-Bingaman amendment.

“NOAA is currently undergoing [a review of the evidence], and once that is complete, if the review is favorable and it is determined that the imagery is available, then NOAA will being issuing license requests to image at the highest commercially available resolution or coarser,” minutes from a meeting last year state.

A record of the council’s latest meeting, in April, note that the review is ongoing and that “many people are interested in the review of the Kyl-Bingaman resolution restriction.”

The next step

So it remains to be seen how this unfolding drama plays out? Trail of the Ark makes a big deal out of its need for protecting what can only be described as sensitive information. Just this episode alone serves to confirm the complexity of regional politics, and its almost inseparable components from even the considered academic only pursuits of archaeology. On the one hand, the opportunity to use satellite technology to delve deep into the Holy Lands’ sub-terrain could potentially reveal exciting finds. However, on the other hand, could the price be similar to what Syrian archaeological explorers encountered, systematic destruction of a buried past?

Trail of the Ark will be closely following developments in what could become a total game changer for identifying major leads associated with missing Temple artefacts.

Written by David Bannister

Article Credits: Lives Science I-24 News TED

Photo Credits: Pixabay Joi Ito