Sarah Parcak is what she and others refer to as a space archaeologist.
A National Geographic Society Archaeology Fellow and 2013 TED Senior Fellow, Parcak works as an Associate Professor of Anthropology for the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she is also the founding director of the Laboratory for Global Observation.
But Sarah Parcak’s claim to fame comes from her groundbreaking use of infrared satellite imagery in archaeological survey and exploration.
To date, her techniques have helped uncover thousands of prospective pyramids, tombs and previously unknown settlements in Egypt and across the Roman Empire. Unfortunately, due increased looting of these sites, their global legacy is now in danger.
In 2011, a large number of looters in Egypt took advantage of the chaos created during the revolution. Some of Egypt’s most significant archaeological locations were ravaged and looted. At the request of the National Geographic Society, Parcak used her satellite imaging technology to determine the extent of damage to these sites.
When her study revealed a 520 percent increase in the number of looters’ pits at just two sites, Parcak saw this as a call to action and the beginning of her vision. In 2015 her $1 million dollar TED Prize gave her the means to see that vision become reality.
Parcak’s solution for protecting these ancient treasures involved the creation of a new citizen-science technology, Global Xplorer, that allows anyone, from anywhere in the world, to join her in the search. It uses a series of cards, each containing a satellite image of 400 to 2,500 square meters, to help track looting activity and discover new sites.
Users receive training tutorials and examples of what to look for. To protect these sites, the system only provides general locations such as country and region. Parcak’s team will then use this information to alert appropriate authorities of looting activity, and produce maps of new archaeological finds to share with nearby archaeologists.
Parcak feels the battle against looting is being lost due to the limited resources archaeologists. She sees this public participation as a way to scale up the fight. It’s imperative that we understand the importance of our shared human history and make every effort to preserve it. By partnering with Sarah, you have the unique opportunity to take part in a process of discovering the many places once inhabited by those who shaped the world as we now know it.
Photos by Mark Almond and The Birmingham News, and used with permission.