August 19, 2016

Peru to be the focus of UAB space archaeologist’s $1 million TED Prize project

Written by: Tiffany Westry

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RS14442 sarah parcak TED RT scr 3Sarah Parcak, Ph.D.Space archaeologist and University of Alabama at Birmingham professor Sarah Parcak, Ph.D., has announced Peru will be the first country explored as part of her 2016 TED Prize wish.

Parcak presented a preview of the project in a video released this week on TED.com. In the video, Parcak reveals why she chose Peru as the first location for the 2016 TED Prize project.

“Machu Picchu was discovered in 1911 by a 35-year-old Yale graduate and professor named Hiram Bingham,” Parcak said. “He used state-of-the-art photography equipment to record the site, and it forever changed the face of exploration.”

One hundred years later, Parcak — a 37-year-old UAB professor and Yale graduate — is inviting the world on a journey to expand on Bingham’s dream, using state-of-the-art technology to map an entire country.

With the $1 million TED Prize, Parcak is working with a team of experts to develop an online citizen science platform called GlobalXplorer.This unique platform will enlist a global community, and allow anyone with an internet connection to discover hidden civilizations or locate sites where looting is taking place, using satellite technology. The platform will also be a hub for conversations about new sites discovered, protected sites and the future of technology in archaeology.

Parcak’s team began looking at satellite imagery from Peru in June and believe they have already identified several locations of large-scale looting. The data collected through GlobalXplorer will be shared with archaeologists on the ground in an effort to protect the sites.

The team will be collaborating closely with Peru’s minister of culture and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Luis Jaime Castillo, Ph.D., a Peruvian archaeologist, professor and former vice minister of culture, will serve as the project’s main co-principal investigator. Castillo will help collaborate the sharing of data with archaeologists in Peru to conduct ground surveys of potential sites identified through GlobalXplorer.

Parcak will also enlist the help of the Sustainable Preservation Initiative for education, outreach and site preservation. The organization creates economic opportunities for those in the communities around archaeological sites by giving them the tools to become self-reliant and leverage their historic sites responsibly. SPI leads efforts to protect threatened archaeological sites and to develop local entrepreneurs and cooperative businesses that utilize cultural heritage assets sustainably.  

GlobalXplorer will launch later this year. Beta testers are currently being sought for the platform.

Click here for more information or to join the first team of explorers.

Parcak is a National Geographic fellow, TED senior fellow and pioneer in the field of remote sensing. She teaches in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences Department of Anthropology and is director of the UAB Laboratory for Global Observations.

Parcak utilizes Earth-facing satellites to collect infrared images in order to locate potential archaeological sites. Once the images are processed, the infrared satellite technology allows Parcak and her team to see what the naked eye cannot. She has discovered 17 potential pyramids, more than 1,000 tombs and 3,000 ancient settlements in Egypt. Her most recent discoveries include the possible location of a second Viking site in North America and a previously unknown structure in the ancient city of Petra.

Parcak’s discoveries have been the subject of documentaries by the BBC, PBS Nova and the Discovery Channel.