Space Archaeology

Activity Source: 

Archaeological Institute of America. Adapted with permission.

Want to be an archaeologist without leaving your school? No problem! Use a computer to become a space archaeologist (no spacesuit required)!

Archaeologists are using remote sensing techniques to find archaeological sites with greater accuracy than ever before.

Remote sensing refers to a variety of non-intrusive techniques that can be used to create detailed images of the Earth’s surface and record sub-surface features. The images are made:

  • from the air by a camera on a satellite, plane, kite, hot air balloon, or crane;
  • through the use of geophysical surveying techniques that record anomalies under the Earth’s surface;
  • using LiDAR, a way of recording sites aerially using lasers that can measure small elevation changes on Earth’s surface.

The maps produced by these techniques allow archaeologists to identify lost sites. In recent years, as high-quality satellite images have become more easily available, space archaeology has really taken off!


  • Computer with internet connection


1. Look at the image at top right. Identify the physical characteristics of the landscape, e.g. river, trees, and pattern of the farmer’s fields. Next, look for evidence of modern human activity, e.g. roads, parking lots, and buildings. Now can you spot the two megalithic passage tomb mounds—Newgrange and Knowth? These enormous burial sites of earth and stone are located in Ireland and are about 5,000 years old.