Home / Press Release / Space Archaeologist has won $1 million TED Prize for her work in the Middle East

Space Archaeologist has won $1 million TED Prize for her work in the Middle East

An UAB professor, a space archaeologist, who use satellites to identify lost civilizations and its potential sub-surface remains has won the annual $1 million TED Prize for 2016.

Sarah Parcak, founding director and an associate professor of the Laboratory for Global Observation of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who also known as “modern day Indiana Jones,” has been awarded by the TED Foundation for her several years of work using military grade satellite imagery to identify and uncover ancient and lost archaeological sites.

Sarah Parcak said in a statement to CNN:

“Ifeel overwhelmed, honored, and excited, and definitely the weight of responsibility for my field. TED is an incredible organization and this is a phenomenal opportunity to raise awareness about what is happening to our ancient shared heritage.”
Parcak has been using space archaeology to locate the ancient sites to save them from looting and destruction in many places, especially in the Middle East. She also revealed that the last 10 years have been worse for archaeology as many monuments and important ancient structures were either looted or destroyed. She has plans to change the entire picture of ancient Egyptian archaeology in the coming decades using the modern technology.

Parcak wrote the textbook on satellite archaeology, and when she discovered most of the undiscovered archaeological sites of Egypt in 2011, she has been started to get global attention. As of now, she is fighting against the looting of important sites in the Middle East. She had earlier reported that social conflicts in the Middle East has resulted in the loss of many archaeologically important sites, including the revolution taken place in Egypt in 2011.

“The last four and half years have been horrific for archaeology. I’ve spent a lot of time, as have many of my colleagues, looking at the destruction,” she said. “This Prize is not about me. It’s about our field. It’s about the thousands of men and women around the world, particularly in the Middle East, who are defending and protecting sites.”

Sarah Parcak will be using the prize money to further improvise the technology and method to find such important ancient sites and protect them.

She has been awarded with $1 million TED Prize 2016 for her works – assisting with mapping of 1,000 tombs, 3,100 unknown settlements and 17 potential pyramids in Egypt. In 2012, she explained the space archaeology in her TED talk (video added below).

There are very less Space Archaeologists in the world. They use the high-res satellites that are located around 500kms away in an orbit of the earth, and capable of thermal and infrared imaging to find the evidence of past human race on the earth. These satellites can accurately pinpoint sites/monuments on less than a meter terra film. These satellites contain most advanced infrared light emitters that can emit infrared light with longer wavelengths than visible light, hence, enabling it to penetrate the earth’s surface.

These high-resolution satellite imagery has been provided principally by Google Earth, DigitalGlobe and NASA, which actively participate in space archaeology program.

Mr. Ahmed from the Ministry of Antiquities, Cairo, Egypt, has praised Dr. Parcak’s work and said to NY Times:

“Egypt appreciates her works because it gives us a sense of the extent of the illicit digging — how the sites from five years ago, before the major looting, compare to the sites as they look today. We can really see the extent of what we suffered as a result of the more recent looting.”

Every year, TED Foundation awards $1 million prize to an individual who is capable of warranting funding for any large-scale social projects. 2015’s TED Prize was awarded to Dave Isay who founded the oral history project StoryCorps.

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