Putting TED2016’s Biggest Ideas to Work for Archaeology

At TED2016, Sarah Parcak got feedback on her idea to launch a citizen science platform for archaeology from people in a wide variety of fields. She appreciated the chance to "learn from their collective wisdom." Photo by Marla Aufmuth/TED
Satellite archaeologist Sarah Parcak got feedback on her vision of launching a citizen science platform for archaeology after speaking at TED2016. She appreciated the chance to learn from “the collective wisdom” of people in a wide variety of fields. Photo by Marla Aufmuth/TED

The TED2016 conference, held in February in Vancouver, was a surreal experience.

I’d attended before, but this time I was there as the TED Prize winner. I had to give a talk and reveal my TED Prize wish: to create a 21st-century army of digital explorers working together to find unknown archaeological sites around the world. As if those stakes didn’t feel high enough, both Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg—gods to me, thanks to Indiana Jones—were in the audience.

The TED community’s reaction to my wish was incredible. People were supportive, kind, excited. I got to hear reactions from creative minds across industries. The cross-pollination of ideas that happens at TED is priceless, and as I listened to the speaker program, several talks felt spoken directly to me.

Here’s a look at four talks with implications for archaeologists, each of which made me think differently about my own work.

Casey Gerald of MBAs Across America gave a powerful talk on doubt. Photo by Ryan Lash/TED

Doubt Is a Vital Thing

Casey Gerald gave one of my favorite talks of the conference, all about doubt. He grew up in the Second Coming of Christ church, and was sure the world would end on December 31, 1999. When it didn’t, he felt swallowed by doubt. Over the years, he’s come to see this as a positive. “The gospel of doubt,” he says, “asks that you believe a new thing: that it’s possible the answers we have are wrong.”

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