“Space Archaeologist” Sarah Parcak has won the coveted $1 million 2016 TED Prize for her contribution to the preservation of historic sites, using satellite imagery.
The community which focuses on “ideas worth spreading” will be sponsoring Parcak’s one “wish to change the world”, which will be unveiled at the TED2016 conference, scheduled to take place in Vancouver, Canada, between February 15 and 19.
The newly announced laureate is a specialist in Egyptology and an anthropology professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, as well as founding director of the Laboratory for Global Observation.
She has been often compared with Indiana Jones, because she helps unearth ancient civilizations, while at the same time protecting vestiges from looters and destruction.
While the nickname “space archaeologist” might suggest that Parcak employs satellites to detect intelligent alien life on Mars and other celestial bodies, in fact her work actually takes place here on Earth, with the objective of discovering human settlements that have been hidden for centuries or millennia.
High-quality thermal and infrared imaging is captured using satellites located around 700 miles away from our planet.
Since this type of invisible radiant energy has longer wavelengths in comparison with visible light, it’s possible for it to pass through the Earth’s surface, and identify buried artifacts, with diameters measuring even less than a meter. Also, this tool can assist scientists in identifying tunnels and paths that pillagers have been using.
According to a BBC documentary released in 2011, the ground-breaking aerial technology which Parcak resorts to was initially catered for military needs, but has allowed her to discover 17 pyramids, 3,100 ancient settlements and 1,000 tombs.
The researcher has dedicated 17 years of her life conducting excavations and surveys in Egypt, in collaboration with her husband, Greg Mumford, who is also an archaeologist. At one point, she managed to unearth 70 sites in just three weeks, an endeavor which would’ve required up to 3 years if traditional methods had been employed.
Also, in 2012 Parcak traveled extensively across continents and countries, following observations made by analyzing satellite images. She retraced the steps of ancient Roman legions, by trekking through Italy, Romania, Jordan and Tunisia.
That is how she brought an ancient amphitheater to light, and also managed to identify a possible location for the Portus lighthouse, which had been modelled after the Pharos of Alexandria, and was often featured on coins, bas-reliefs and coins.
Upon being awarded the TED Prize, the National Geographic Fellow has expressed her gratitude at receiving recognition for her work, from such a prestigious organization.
As she explained, this accolade also gives her the opportunity to raise awareness of the need to protect ancient heritage, which has withstood the test of time so far. Precious relics left behind by long-lost civilizations should be allowed to survive, so that future generations can also get a glimpse into their fascinating past.
That is why the anthropologist declared her prize money will be directed towards monitoring archaeological sites closely, so that they can be kept safe from harm.
Her aim is to start partnerships with local governments and non-profit organizations, with a view to combat looting at historic sites, which has been spinning out of control in the last four and a half years.
Following the Arab Spring, the rate of vestige plundering has soared by 500% to 1000%, since buried treasures are now being used in order to support terrorism, as well as drug and arms trafficking.
Therefore, it’s essential to take immediate measures against these practices, which pose a threat not just to the preservation of history, but also to the future of mankind.
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