Tom Sever, NASA's only archeologist, on a Temple at Tikal, Guatemala

Remote Sensing

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Temples at Tikal, GuatemalaMuch of human history can be traced through the impacts of human actions upon the environment. The use of remote sensing technology offers the archeologist the opportunity to detect these impacts which are often invisible to the naked eye. This information can be used to address issues in human settlement, environmental interaction, and climate change. Archeologists want to know how ancient people successfully adapted to their environment and what factors may have led to their collapse or disappearance. Did they overextend the capacity of their landscape, causing destructive environmental effects which led to their demise? Can this information be applied to modern day societies so that the mistakes of the past are not repeated?

Remote sensing can be used as a methodological procedure for detecting, inventorying, and prioritizing surface and shallow-depth archeological information in a rapid, accurate, and quantified manner. Man is a tropical creature who has invaded every environment on earth successfully; now we are ready to explore, and eventually colonize, the delicate environments of Space. Understanding how ancient man successfully managed Earth is important for the success of current and future societies.

"The stereotype has archaeologists just digging up spearheads and pottery and anthropologists just writing down the words of primitive tribes. But we're examining how people adapted to their environment throughout time, how they experienced environmental shift, why cultures come and go. Soils associated with artifacts are as important as the artifacts themselves--probably more relevant to us than the actual objects. Now more than ever, archaeological research is interdisciplinary: botany, forestry, soil science, hydrology--all of which contribute to a more complete understanding of the earth, climatic shifts, and how people adapt to large regions. This understanding is critical to future decision making affecting the planet.

In Costa Rica, the culture survived repeated volcanic explosions that repeatedly destroyed the environment, explosions equal to the force of a nuclear blast. Other cultures, like the advanced Maya societies, did not survive or recover from similar eruptions. Did it have to do with the size and violence of the eruption, the way they farmed their land over time, or territorial and political struggle?" *

Responsible Official: Dr. James L. Smoot (
Page Author: Tom Sever
Page Curator: Diane Samuelson (