‘Space archaeologist’ and Bangor native Sarah Parcak unveils GlobalXplorer, funded by $1 million TED prize

During her TED Prize talk at TED2016, Sarah Parcak explains how the Pyramids of Giza continue to leave her speechless. Photo Credit: Bret Hartman/TED

During her TED Prize talk at TED2016, Sarah Parcak explains how the Pyramids of Giza continue to leave her speechless. Photo Credit: Bret Hartman/TED

Sarah Parcak, a world-renowned archaeologist and 1997 graduate of Bangor High School, on Monday announced the launch of her new initiative, GlobalXplorer, a citizen science and archaeology platform that will enlist people around the world to discover sites unknown to modern archaeologists.

Parcak in November 2015 was named a TED fellow, a prestigious honor with an accompanying $1 million prize. She’s also a National Geographic Fellow and a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

GlobalXplorer is the result of Parcak’s TED Prize, which along with the monetary prize offers the winner the resources of the TED community to create a world-changing project. Parcak wanted anyone with an Internet connection to, as she said in a press release, “discover and protect the millions of unknown archaeological sites across the globe.”

GlobalXplorer will allow the user to have a gaming-like experience to help discover archaeological sites previously unknown. After signing in and taking a tutorial, users begin examining satellite images, looking for evidence of looting or other tampering . Users collect rewards for spending time on the site. The first satellite images will be from sites in Peru; new countries will be added in the coming months.

“The world’s hidden heritage contains clues to humankind’s collective resilience and creativity,” she said, in a press release. “It’s up to all of us to protect this heritage, and with GlobalXplorer we are empowering a 21st century army of global explorers to discover and protect our shared history.”

Parcak’s pioneering work in using satellite imagery to identify archaeological sites has also spawned a secondary use for the technology: protecting sites in the Middle East and elsewhere from looters who wish to sell priceless antiquities on the black market.

Parcak was born and raised in Bangor, the daughter of John and Marjorie Parcak, who still reside in Bangor. Her grandfather, Harold Young, was a forestry professor at the University of Maine and was one of the pioneers of using aerial photography to track the health of different species of trees. While Parcak’s work using satellite imagery is light years ahead, technologically speaking, of what her grandfather was doing in the 1960s, there’s still a kind of continuity in both their work — it’s all about pattern recognition.

Here’s a video of Parcak giving a TED talk in 2015:

And here’s a video of Parcak appearing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in 2016, in which he refers to her as “Indiana Jones in space.”

Emily Burnham

About Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native, UMaine graduate, proud Bangorian and a writer for the Bangor Daily News, where she's worked since 2004. She reports on everything from local bands to local food to all the cool things going on in the Greater Bangor area. In her quest for stories, she's seen countless concerts and plays, been lobster fishing, interviewed celebrities, hung out with water buffalo and played in a ukulele orchestra. She's interested in everything that happens in Maine.