Dr. Sarah Parcak, an UAB professor, was granted a $1 million prize by the TED Foundation for her use of satellites to reveal possible underground ancient treasures. The awarded has been nicknamed as the “modern day Indiana Jones.”
For her research, Parcak makes use of infrared images captured by satellites. In the beginning, this technology was used for military purposes, such as identifying possible remains left under the surface.
These satellites that are placed nearly 500 km above Earth and are equipped with thermal functions and infra-red — which can penetrate the earth’s surface thanks to its wavelength —, have the technology necessary to identify objects on firm ground less than 1 meter in diameter.
On the space archaeology field, Parcak states that it’s not so much something out of a sci-fi movie, as it is about trying to find evidence of past human lives on Earth.
During her investigation, the professor captured images of the entirety of Egypt, where she discovered what might by new 17 unknown pyramids out of the already 138 confirmed ones, 3100 settlements and 1000 tombs; along with a large number of ancient treasures all over Europe, the Mediterranean and North Atlantic.
The professor says that by adopting new technologies, mapping out archeological sites and generally changing the way we look at landscapes, we have a better chance at understanding who we are. She describes it as the most exciting part of her job so far.
Parcak also brought attention to the global scale issue of looting in archeological sites.
“Archaeology is experiencing significant challenges right now due to ISIL (ISIS), economic crises, and drops in tourism. Looting and site destruction are global problems. We have a tough road ahead, and one key will be developing more collaborations using new technologies like satellite imagery. I am one of many people documenting damage and looting at ancient sites from space — it is such a crucial tool,” she reportedly said.
One of Parcak’s goals with her new global recognition is to engage people in the protection of these ancient sites. She hopes to find ways to prevent the looting and destruction going on them, not only caused by ISIS, but also prevalent in other locations like Peru, China and India.
Encouraging Egyptian leaders to engage in tourism activities surrounding archaeological places is one of the future initiatives that may take place to ensure the protection of world’s patrimony.