There are so many previously unknown sites and structures all over the world. And I think most importantly what satellites help to show us is we've actually only found a fraction of a percent of ancient settlements and sites all over the world.

Sarah Parcak

Sarah Parcak

Profession: Archaeologist
Nationality: American

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I keep being surprised by the amount of archaeological sites and features that are left to find all over the world.

We want to excite the world about what's out there. But we don't want them to say, 'Oh, there are lots of sites in Egypt - let's loot.'

Scorpions like holes. We had to put our arms in the holes to dig out the smelting residues. We always performed critter checks before an excavation, but one morning, I put an arm in and felt a sharp pierce. When I brought my hand out, it was red and already swelling.

In Egypt, I do survey work on the ground. That's really the most important part of using satellite images. You know, it helps us to find potential locations for sites, and then we get to go there on the ground and confirm what we've seen.

Archaeologists use datasets from NASA and commercial satellites, processing the information using various off-the-shelf computer programs. These datasets allow us to see beyond the visible part of the light spectrum into the near, middle, and far infrared.

What we did is we used NASA topography data to map out the landscape, very subtle changes. We started to be able to see where the Nile used to flow.

We've got to map all of our ancient history before it's gone because, let's face it, if we don't have a common heritage to share, something to get excited about, then what are we living for?

'Satellite archaeology' refers to the use of NASA and commercial high resolution satellite datasets to map and discover past structures, cities, and geological features.

Imagery is powerful. Imagery is provocative - satellite imagery much more so because it is from space, and it allows us to get this perspective that we don't have to have otherwise.

I am honored to receive the TED Prize, but it's not about me; it's about our field - and the thousands of men and women around the world, particularly in the Middle East, who are defending and protecting sites.

When you think about the scale of human populations all over the world and the fact that there's so much here, really, the only way to be able to visualize that is to pull back in space... It allows us to see hidden temples and tombs and pyramids and even entire settlements.

I hope my work contributes to understanding long-term patterns of human behavior and how we survive, thrive, or fail during times of environmental, social, and economic crisis.

Looting has an immense impact on our ability to understand our global cultural heritage; once these objects are gone, so too is our chance of piecing together humanity's shared story.

It's an important tool to focus where we're excavating. It gives us a much bigger perspective on archaeological sites. We have to think bigger, and that's what the satellites allow us to do.