Sarah Parcak is investing $1 million worth of her TED prize for the gamification of space archaeology.
Known for her stand against ISIS raising money by looting archaeological sites, Sarah Parcak, often called “real-world Indiana Jones,” is a space archaeologist who tracks looted ancient burial sites using satellite imagery. She won the $1 million TED prize in November 2015, which she now plans to use to launch a worldwide campaign to save space archaeology from looting.
She will be doing it through a digital platform called Global Xplorer, which will be a super-high-tech version of Google Earth that will utilize crowdsourcing and satellite images to discover and protect unknown archaeological sites around the world. She told NPR that she plans to “game-ify” archaeological research and how she is enlisting everyone’s help.
She writes on Global Xplorer, “I wish for us to discover the millions of unknown archaeological sites across the globe. By building an online citizen science platform and training a 21st century army of global explorers, we’ll find and protect the world’s hidden heritage, which contains clues to humankind’s collective resilience and creativity.”
She has openly criticised the activities of Taliban in destroying the Buddhas at Bamiyan in 2001 and ISIS’ destruction of the city of Palmyra in Syria.
She warns on Global Xplorer, “We are at a tipping point. The last five years have been horrific for archaeology. My colleagues and I have spent countless hours surveying the destruction, and the bad news trickles out in the press. Every day, we read reports of stolen ancient treasures sold at major auction houses, of incredible ancient sites bulldozed in Central America, of revered ancient sites in the Middle East blown up by ISIL. At the same time, we know that the systematic looting of ancient sites is funding terrorism and crime networks. It not only lines the bank accounts of the world’s bad guys; it means that experts don’t have the pieces they need in order to understand the puzzles of ancient civilizations. We are in real, true danger of losing our collective global history.”
She calls her project a “platform for humanity.” Users will be given processed satellite imagery of a plot of land around 20 to 30 square meters with keys by the side of the picture. These maps won’t reveal GPS locations for security reasons. Crowdsourcing, she says, will give them “lots of fresh pairs of eyes.”
Once enough users identify a site, academic archaeologists might go out and excavate the sites. The crowd will be able to go along with them through applications like Periscope, Google Plus, Skype, and Instagram.
She said in her TED talk 2016, “If we want to learn about our past, we need to invert the pyramids. A hundred years ago archaeology was for the rich, 50 years ago it was for men, and now it’s mainly for academics. But archaeology can be for everyone. We can crowdsource exploration and speed up the process of discovering and protecting ancient sites.”
If things go according to the schedule, the new programme will go online by fall. Parcak wants to introduce school children around the world to the excitement of exploration and discovery and educate the future generation about the importance of archaeological sites, as well as the pressing need to protect the world’s cultural heritage.
Christopher Thornton, the senior director of the Cultural Heritage Initiative at the National Geographic Society, says the ambitious project could make a major difference in what has long been a losing battle for archaeologists.
In National Geographic, he states, “I think Sarah has the right vision and she has gathered the right groups around her [to develop the project.] This is a huge opportunity to educate the public on things that we know about looting because we are deeply embedded in this world.”
Archaeologists have explored less than 10 percent of the earth’s surface, and by building this online citizen’s platform, Sarah Parcak aims to find and protect the world’s hidden heritage, which contains clues to humankind’s collective resilience and creativity.
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