What Went Through My Head When I Found Out I Won the 2016 TED Prize

Archaeologist Sarah Parcak analyzes satellite imagery to see ancient sites from the air that she then excavates on the ground. Last week at the annual TED Conference, she shared her plan to build a citizen science platform that will let people around the world discover sites. Photo byBret Hartman/TED
Archaeologist Sarah Parcak analyzes satellite imagery to see ancient sites from the air that she then excavates on the ground. She’s the winner of the 2016 TED Prize, and last week she shared her plan to build a citizen science platform and let people around the world discover sites too. Photo by Bret Hartman/TED

The last five years have been horrific for archaeology.

I am a space archaeologist, and before 2011, I spent my time happily processing satellite images to spot subtle changes to the Earth’s surface that hint at ancient sites, hidden from view. But since 2011, my work has changed. Like many of my colleagues, I now spend a large chunk of time mapping and monitoring the destruction of ancient sites. The looting of antiquities has always been an issue; the pyramids of ancient Egypt were ransacked not long after they were “sealed up.” But satellite imagery shows that wide-scale, systematic looting is taking place across the Middle East, and that its frequency has increased dramatically in recent years.

This is in addition to the intentional destruction of sites. Archaeologists sometimes know about threatened sites before the general public does, and we could all see the writing on the wall as ISIL approached Palmyra, one of the great cities of antiquity—a true symbol of ancient diplomacy and culture. ISIL is all about shock value: “What can we do today that the world will notice and that will help us recruit?” They treated Palmyra like Halloween candy, savoring each destructive bite, stretching it out to make it last as long as possible. You can almost predict, piece by piece, what they’re going to destroy next.

Sarah Parcak always dreamed of visiting the ancient city of Palmyra. But alas, much of the site has been destroyed by ISIL, as —> Read More

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail