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Space Archaeology (Continued)
Satellites Explore the Hidden Wonders of Egypt

Pinpointing the Targets

Our analyses pinpointed 38 sites of possible buried and unknown constructions. Most, however, were under military control or within the concession areas of other archaeological teams. Following the trails our analyses laid out, however, confirmed that at least four of those targets did indeed contain unreported remains of ancient monuments.

This diagram shows the location of the unfinished sarcophagus discovered in the bottom chamber of the tomb.

Ground surveys at two sites near the pyramid of Kendjer revealed surface deposits of limestone fragments and other artificial objects, including three stone coffins. A third site, dated to the New Kingdom, was in an almost completely flat stretch of desert. A strong backscatter, however, revealed a mud-brick architectural complex, covered by a thin layer of sand, with many surface deposits. Though a worthy site, it was ignored in our study, since pyramids apparently were not being built at Dahshur during the New Kingdom. That left the site we designated No. 35 roughly 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) south of Cairo and two kilometers (1.2 miles) northeast of Snefru's Red Pyramid. This was the site we chose to excavate.

The high-resolution optical image from the KVR-1000 satellite revealed three circular hollows in a diagonal line similar to the pyramid formation of Giza. These circular hollows mostly are typical of collapsed or unfinished pyramids, as determined in our baseline study, and the site is surrounded by Old and Middle Kingdom monuments.

The Landsat and SPOT images also showed strong reflections around pyramid and limestone constructions, and surface deposits were found during the ground surveys.

The Tomb in the Sand

We began excavating the site, named "Dahshur North," in March 1996. The most conspicuous discovery was a mud-brick tomb of the New Kingdom period that is 47 meters (154 feet) long, comparable to the largest tomb-chapel of Horemheb at Saqqara. It was built on the central hilltop of the site, where soft limestone chips were scattered on the surface. The upper part of the tomb was mostly gone, but the floor plan included a ramp, courtyards, and a chapel with side rooms.

Although the tomb was not a pyramid complex, we discovered a limestone pyramidion (a capstone) about 60 centimeters (2 feet) tall. It almost certainly was designed to sit atop the tomb-chapel.

We also unearthed a shaft entrance and several underground chambers (about 13 meters, 43 feet, below the surface). The shaft was elaborately lined with limestone blocks and leads to seven underground chambers. A huge granite sarcophagus was found in the innermost chamber.

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So far, we have recovered more than 4,000 artifacts that suggest the tomb is from the late-eighteenth or early-nineteenth dynasty. Such royal names as Akhenaten, Tutankhamun, his wife Ankhesenamun, and Rameses II were written on some objects. The size and elaborate construction of the tomb imply that the owner must have been a high official connected to the royal family.

In any event, this is the first New Kingdom monument reported in the Dahshur area. This excavation is noteworthy for its archaeological discovery, but even more for demonstrating the value of space archaeology in surveying the Egyptian desert for sites that are invisible from the ground. The eyes in the sky, if utilized by Egyptologists, promise many more discoveries in the years ahead.

TOSHIBUMI SAKATA and MASAHIRO ETAYA are with Tokai University Research & Information Center in Tokyo.

SAKUJI YOSHIMURA, JIRO KONDO, and SO HASEGAWA are with the Egyptian Culture Center of Waseda University.

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