My dream is to map every archaeological site in the world because, if we can do that, then we have this massive global data base that all sorts of global heritage organizations and heritage organizations within countries can use, and they can use that information to protect what's there.

Sarah Parcak

Sarah Parcak

Profession: Archaeologist
Nationality: American

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I dig in the sand, and I play with pretty pictures, so I never really left kindergarten.

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

We only have a limited amount of time left before many archaeological sites all over the world are destroyed. So we have to be really selective about where we dig.

I predict that there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of undiscovered ancient sites across the globe. The only way to map them and locate them quickly is from satellites.

We've found that patterns of site looting have increased between 500 and 1000 percent since the start of the Arab Spring. Now this is a problem as old as human beings. People were looting tombs 5,000 years ago in Egypt as soon as people were buried, but the problem is only getting worse and worse.

I try to tell a lot of stories to make my students aware that the world is a very cool place with many problems that need solving, and that they all can help solve them.

When I was a child growing up in Maine, one of my favorite things to do was to look for sand dollars on the seashores of Maine, because my parents told me it would bring me luck. But you know, these shells, they're hard to find. They're covered in sand. They're difficult to see.

The map we made of the 3,000-year-old city of Tanis requires no imagination. It has buildings, streets, admin complexes, houses - clear as day.

Before doing fieldwork in Middle Egypt, I analyzed satellite imagery to determine exactly where I wanted to go. Within three weeks, I found about 70 sites. If I had approached this as a traditional foot survey, it would have taken me three and a half years.

Looting and site destruction are global problems. We have a tough road ahead, and one key will be developing more collaborations and using new technologies like satellite imagery.

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.

You just pull back for hundreds of miles using the satellite imagery, and all of a sudden this invisible world become visible. You're actually able to see settlements and tombs - and even things like buried pyramids - that you might not otherwise be able to see.

A picture is worth a thousand words. A satellite image is worth a million dollars.

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.