Get your felt hat and bullwhip, because a new online platform called GlobalXplorer allows anyone to become a modern-day Indiana Jones.
Developed by Dr. Sarah Parcak, an archaeologist and winner of the 2016 TED Prize, GlobalXplorer relies on satellite imagery to give users a bird’s-eye look at various terrain in Peru, which they can search for new archaeological sites.
Parcak funded the project with the $1 million in prize money issued through the TED Prize, which was awarded in late 2015. In a press call on Monday, January 30, she said she hopes it will change how the public thinks about the larger stories that may be hidden under layers of dirt and rock.
“We can really change the conversation and create a world where people not just care about history, but are a part of retelling it,” she said.
In many ways, GlobalXplorer is designed more as a game than a tool. You start out as a novice explorer, as the site’s tutorials show you what looting looks like from 450 miles above the Earth. Along the way, you receive a Consensus Score, which keeps track of how often your judgments about particular regions match those of people who have seen the same space.
As you look through more of these “tiles” — 100x100m squares of land, as your screen shows it — you advance through the ranks.
After 500 tiles, Wanderers become Pathfinders. After 1,000 tiles, Pathfinders become Voyagers — all the way up to Space Archaeologists, who have looked through at least 50,000 tiles. Each level unlocks various rewards, including early notifications about Reddit AMAs and access to special content on YouTube.
“We want people to feel like there’s a reason to come back,” Parcak said.
She wants the program to facilitate a global community of explorers who can somewhat take the load off professional archaeologists. As such, data from GlobalXplorer gets transmitted back to Parcak and her team to analyse which sites might need actual attention.
But she also acknowledges there’s a deeper reason the platform should resonate with people, noting that one of the hallmarks of archaeology is its ability to give perspective. Through tyrants, climate change, economic crises, war, and disease, humans have stayed resilient, Parcak said.
“We’re all human beings at the end of the day,” she added. “I think understanding who we are and where we’ve come from, that can connect us in a way that we need right now.”
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