Pictures From Space Seeing What the Naked Eye Can’t

On December 25, 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope was launched into space. The telescope’s main focus was to study “every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth” (McQuilkin, Chakrabarti, Skoog 2023). The telescope is a huge feat for space exploration and understanding what is beyond our solar system. JWST has brought back information on the birthplace and death of stars, the emergence of galaxies, and even an understanding of the Big Bang. What if we could apply something similar to archaeology?

Figure 1 an image of the JWST Satellite before launch

Advanced satellites have similar impacts on archaeology as well, in that they help advance the field’s knowledge of the past. Egyptologist, Dr. Sarah Parcak, utilizes satellite imaging in her daily work life. The infrared technology was able to pick up signatures of different densities of minerals and material in archaeology sites. In Egypt alone, the satellite found “17 new ‘possible’ pyramids, 1,000 new tombs, and 3,000 new sites in total”(Space Satellite Archaeology). This technology is a huge step forward for archaeology. Using this method, archaeologists can now identify sites that wouldn’t have been previously known to the naked eye. Dr. Parcak herself was able to identify hundreds of archaeological digs in Egypt.

Figure 2. a zoomed in example of Dr. Parcak’s infrared picturing finding ruins

The ancient city of Ubar in a section of the country of Oman called Rub’al Khali, was discovered mainly by using satellite imaging. The archaeologists on site found information about the climate of the city, and an eight-sided structure was revealed, even the cause of the city’s fall. Researchers determined that the city quite literally fell to its abandonment. The city’s center was unknowingly built on a limestone cavern, and when the weight of it all became too much, everything fell into a massive sinkhole.

Continuing to use the satellite images, researchers were able to decipher trade routes that “were packed down into hard surfaces by the passage of hundreds of thousands of camels”(Maugh II 1992). The team of researchers deduced that the city of Ubar was a city of tent dwellers excluding the center keep was a stone fortress. Thought to be the living quarters of the monarch, the fortress “was ringed by eight walls, each about two feet thick, 10 to 12 feet high and about 60 feet long”(Maugh II 1992).

Works Cited:

McQuilkin, Hilary, Meghna Chakrabarti, and Tim Skoog. “A Year of Discovery from the James Webb Space Telescope.” On Point, July 19, 2023.

Research Outreach. “Archaeology from Space: Using Earth Observation Data to Unearth Our Past.” Research Outreach, November 8, 2023.,sites%20remain%20as%2Dyet%20undiscovered.

“Satellite Imagery in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Preservation.” Utilities One. Accessed December 3, 2023.

“Space Satellite Archaeology.” Space Satellite Archaeology – NASA satellite imaging – infrared. Accessed December 3, 2023.

“Ubar, Fabled Lost City, Found by L.A. Team : Archeology: NASA Aided in Finding the Ancient Arab Town, Once the Center of Frankincense Trade.” Los Angeles Times, February 5, 1992.

Images Used:

Further Readings:

Obsidian Woven Through Aztec Society

Aztec society is one of the most well known native tribes in the world. They’re most well known for their intricate infrastructure and religion, however they had a very distinct and powerful military as well. The Aztecs heavily relied on warfare to smother invading tribes, gain resources and territory, and collect sacrifices. To gain such power, warriors depended heavily on weaponry such as bows and arrows, spears, javelin, clubs, swords, and specifically, the atlatl. While a fun word to say, it is a deadly weapon when used properly. The atlatl consisted of two separate mechanisms, a javelin or large dart and a wooden hook to sling the projectile to the users target. According to, this weapon was specifically used for long distance and could pierce chainmail armor of European soldiers and leather of other mesoamerican tribes. Almost every warrior in the tribe of city-state had the knowledge of how to wield an atlatl with its obsidian headed projectile. 

Figure 1. a demonstration of how an ancient atlatl would be thrown (Wikipedia 2023)

In their society, it was mandatory for men to participate in warfare, it was viewed as them fulfilling their role as a man and honoring the gods, specifically their war and sun god Huitzilopochtli. Since the Aztecs relied so heavily on warfare and were fearful of the repercussions of having an unworthy sacrifice to their sun god, the Aztecs made a gruesome and morally expensive offering, human sacrifice. 

FIgure 2. An Aztec Sun stone made as an offering to Huitzilopochtli (Aztec Sun Stone, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City, 2023)

The reasoning for human sacrifice is circumstantially very sound however. The society feared that Huitzilopochtli would stop the sun, ceasing all life on earth. Typically, Aztecs would turn to prisoners of war as the sacrifice, never encouraging the slaughter of citizens in the city-state. In most cultures of the ancient times, priests would be ranked very high in the hierarchy, but according to, the priests did not have it easy. They were tasked with performing the human sacrifices with obsidian blades. These obsidian blades were made slowly by chipping away shards of the rock into an impossibly sharp edged weapon. The Aztecs used obsidian as projectile points and other tools throughout their community. Creating a knife or javelin head for an atlatl was a very intricate and trying process, one wrong strike to the obsidian and the tool would split in half, ruined. Obsidian was a precious, dangerous, and effective stone. In fact, the stone was so effective in their weaponry that the civilization didn’t even find the need to advance past it and towards metal. 

Figure 3. examples of what obsidian would be shaped into for weaponry (Daily Mail 2012)

Aztec culture and society was very complex and successful, they developed religion, agriculture, warfare and society, with one common thread, obsidian. Its relevance in all aspects of their culture made it a hot commodity and traced throughout Aztec history.


“Aztec Warriors: Rank and Warrior Societies – History.” 2014. History. July 23, 2014.

Cartwright, Mark. 2015. “Aztec Warfare.” World History Encyclopedia. March 18, 2015.

Mineo, Liz. 2018. “Unearthing the Secrets of the Aztecs.” Harvard Gazette. April 9, 2018.

Mexicolore. 2019. “Aztec Social Classes.” 2019.

Roos, Dave. 2018. “Human Sacrifice: Why the Aztecs Practiced This Gory Ritual.” HISTORY. October 11, 2018.

Cartwright, Mark. 2022. “Obsidian in Mesoamerica.” World History Encyclopedia. August 24, 2022.

“An Obsession with Obsidian | the Engines of Our Ingenuity.” n.d. Accessed October 2, 2023.

Further Reading:

Here is a more in depth interview about Aztec civilization in general:

Here is a journal on how different Mesoamerican civilization utilized obsidian: