How can citizen science help preserve ancient Egyptian ruins? Modern- day Indiana Jones Dr. Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama has one answer: Working with the global citizen science and crowdsourcing community, Parcak aims to use satellite imagery to discover and protect hidden archaeological sites around the world.
The winner of the 2016 TED Prize, space archaeologist Parcak announced on Feb. 16 that she plans to use the $1 million grant to create Global Xplorer, the first crowdsourced online platform to locate archaeological sites using satellites.
Analyzing infrared satellite images and tracking discrepancies in the terrain, Parcak has already potentially discovered 17 pyramids and more than 3,100 settlements and 1,000 tombs in Egypt. However, with potentially millions of sites left to be found, she cannot undertake this challenge alone. By engaging the global citizen scientists and crowdsourcing community, Parcak aims to preserve as much of the world’s cultural heritage as possible.
The destruction and looting of archaeological sites is a serious issue. At the TED 2016 conference, Parcak revealed her vision to the global network of citizen scientists: “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.”
Parcak’s Global Xplorer online platform will leverage citizen science to locate and subsequently protect archaeological sites all around the globe. After registering onto the platform and participating in a simple tutorial, non-professional scientists scan through a series of satellite images that show a small piece of land. Trained to notice indicators of potential sites, participants will be able to identify potential pyramids, tombs and temples, as well as signs of looting, which the archaeologists will then verify. The amateur scientists can further engage with the project by virtually accompanying the archaeologists on their site visits.
For both Parcak and the citizen scientists, the ultimate goal is to preserve global heritage. With the TED Prize, Parcak hopes to build Global Xplorer into the “first-ever crowdsourced system to find sites and map looting on a large scale.” She says, “We honor our past by protecting it for the future.”