Scanning the Pyramids

Scanning the Pyramids

Caitlin Stevens, a researcher at the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies at the University of Arkansas, is featured in the premiere episode of the documentary television series, Time Scanners, which debuts tonight on PBS.

The episode focuses on the pyramids in Egypt. Stevens and fellow CAST researcher Malcolm Williamson were filmed doing what they do best, using their advanced remote sensing technology to collect and analyze billions of measurements to form what is known as a point cloud, which provided a 3-D perspective of these ancient structures, including the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Here’s Caitlin setting up a laser scanner at the pyramid of Meidum, also known as the collapsed pyramid:

Courtesy Atlantic Productions

Courtesy Atlantic Productions

“I think that scanning in Egypt was one of the best ways to see it,” Caitlin told me in an e-mail. “Once the scan was set up and started, I could look around and appreciate what I was scanning. Outside there was the landscape — these open vistas of dry desert right next to green farmland and palm trees with no one else in sight. And inside the pyramids, I had the time to study the craftsmanship and the precision, the traces and markings of the original builders. It was so much better than coming through as a tourist and just quickly passing through these epic spaces.”

Caitlin had a chance to scan inside the pyramids, as well. Here she is in the burial chamber in the collapsed pyramid:


Courtesy Atlantic Prductions

Courtesy Atlantic Productions


Caitlin was inside another pyramid — the Great Pyramid of Giza — when she had an interesting experience.

“It was when I realized what I needed to do to scan inside the upper chambers of the Great Pyramid,” she said. “Local workers were tying together a wooden ladder with some very old rope and I was imagining crawling through the narrow entrance tunnel. But once inside, I forgot all of that. It was such an amazing place and only a handful of people had been inside there. Those ended up being some of the most challenging and the most rewarding scans of the trip.”

One of her fondest memories or Egypt was a bond she made with a couple of the locals who were helping the production crew carry equipment to get to difficult areas.

“I had two great guys helping me, ‘Big Mohammed’ and ‘Little Mohammed,’” she said. “I didn’t speak any Arabic and they didn’t speak any English, but in the end I knew more about their families and way of life and they knew about mine. For me, that’s one of the great things about working in such diverse places, that direct contact with people and a different way of life.”

Stevens, a graduate of the Fay Jones School of Architecture at the U of A, will appear in next two episodes of Time Scanners: July 8, when the series shifts to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and July 15, when the team explores the architectural secrets of the ancient Jordanian city of Petra.

About The Author

Chris Branam writes about research and economic development at the University of Arkansas. His beats include the Arkansas Research and Technology Park, the Department of Biological Sciences and the Department of History.

University Relations Science and Research Team

University Relations Science and Research Team

Matt McGowan
science and research writer

Robert Whitby
science and research writer

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