Miles above the Earth, Sarah Parcak can see history hidden in the dirt.
She can then use that knowledge, gathered using infrared imagery from satellites, to protect ancient sites, shielding them from destruction by meddling humans (she also finds plenty of already-looted sites too, sadly).
It’s a feat that just earned Parcak the $US1 million 2016 TED Prize, an award given out just once a year to help the winner launch an ambitious global projects.
Parcak, a space archaeologist and Egyptologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham,” plans to use the prize money to pursue her ongoing project: using high-tech aerial imaging to uncover and preserve ancient sites in the Middle East.
You can think of her as Indiana Jones, if Jones operated from space (in fact, her Twitter handle is @indyfromspace).
According to Parcak, the last four and a half years “have been horrific for archaeology,” largely because of rampant looting around historic sites and constant warfare that can damage precious pieces of history.
In Egypt, Parcak has found 1,000 tombs, 3,100 settlements, and 17 possible pyramids.
In the satellite image below, provided by Parcak, we can see looted artifacts in an area near Cairo, Egypt. Parcak has found hundreds of looting pits — including tombs — in Lisht, the former capital of Egypt in the Middle Kingdom (the period between 2000 BC and 1700 BC).
“I’ve spent a lot of time, as have many of my colleagues, looking at the destruction,” she says in a TED post on the announcement. “I am committed to using this Prize to engage the world in finding and protecting these global sites.”
Parcak’s technique for finding these sites involves careful use of infrared imaging and computer software, both of which can suss out the noteworthy dig sites from the useless noise at at far greater accuracy than the human eye.
In recent years, advances in satellite technology have bolstered her work further. “The resolution of satellites has improved…so we are able to see so much more then even a few years ago. Also, the spectral resolution has improved so we can see even further into the middle infrared, which allows us to see subtle changes in geology,” she writes in an email to Tech Insider.”
“The sheer scale of what remains to be discovered is a highlight for me,” she writes.
In February, Parcak will share what exactly her $US1 million will go towards.
Here’s what we do know: The prize will allow her to expand her search for ancient sites around the world, ultimately producing a richer picture of how our present came to be.
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