Sarah Parcak, a Bangor native, TED Prize winner, “space archaeologist” and real-life Indiana Jones, has a plan to get everyone excited about archaeology.
Not just excited. She wants to let anyone help archaeologists by making real, substantial contributions to the field from home.
On Tuesday, Parcak finally unveiled the long-awaited TED Prize wish she could only hint at to Stephen Colbert, a use for the $1 million that came with her award. At the TED2016 conference, she unveiled her plan to make archaeology into a game.
Parcak is the face of “space archaeology,” analyzing information from satellite photos to find hidden and buried ancient sites. Here it is in her words, in her 2012 TED Talk:
The game, which has yet to be developed, will let anyone with a smartphone get in on some space archaeology.
The platform is called Global XPlorer, according to the TED blog. It trains users to spot possible ancient sites from thousands of high-resolution satellite photos. If several people mark a photo as a possible ancient site, Parcak and other archaeologists will follow up on it. As Parcak told TED, she believes there are millions of archaeological sites left to be found.
In an interview with Wired posted Tuesday, Parcak called archaeology “a slow and laborious process,” adding, “That needs to end.”
That’s where Global XPlorer users come in. The idea of crowdsourcing, letting the masses help contribute or sift through data, has been used for everything from mapping the human brain to finding terrorists.
Global XPlorer users won’t just be helping academics. They’ll help archaeologists like Parcak beat ISIS to the sites.
Bloomberg reported last year that ISIS has been running its own looting expeditions, smuggling ancient artifacts out to be sold to private collectors. As of last June, archaeologists estimated ISIS was responsible for $300 million worth of looted, smuggled antiquities.
That means users will be helping to fight ISIS, by cutting a major revenue source, with every possible archaeological site they identify.
According to Wired, the platform will show people a piece of land, about 165 x 165, with no location markings. Users could be looking at Egypt or Syria or Kazakhstan and not know it, which will keep looters from using the platform to find sites themselves.
If several people mark a spot as having a possible archaeological site, Parcak and her team will look at it. Then, when archaeologists visit the site, they’ll share what they find with the world using social media like Periscope and Snapchat.
It’s worth reading the whole Wired interview, by the way, for Parcak’s response to people who criticize the term “space archaeology” and how she became a media-savvy spokeswoman for archaeology.
And in case you missed it, here’s her interview with Stephen Colbert last month: