US$1m TED prize goes to archaeologist who tracks looters with satellites

The pioneering “satellite archaeologist” Sarah H Parcak has won the prestigious TED award for her satellite technology that helps to prevent looting in places such as Egypt and Syria.

Sarah Parcak, winner of the prestigious TED award

Sarah Parcak, winner of the prestigious TED award Image by Joi Ito / CC BY 2.0

An archeologist by trade, Parcak has made a name for herself by introducing satellite technology to looting, an increasing problem in places where conflict and unrest has made the trade and destruction of cultural heritage a phenomenon that often makes headlines.

According to The New York Times, nowhere is more advanced in tracking devices of this kind than Egypt, where a programme run by Dr Parcak and funded by the National Science Foundation and National Geographic, has targeted looting, which has worsened since the 2011 revolution. In the last week of October alone 1,124 stolen artifacts were seized as they were being smuggled out of Egypt.

The satellites which were originally used to seek out and discover archeological sites, are now being used to preserve those same sites by tracking digs and pock-marks across what are known to be sites of historical and cultural value.

Parcak, a Yale graduate with a doctorate from Cambridge, is working with the Egyptian government to train authorities there to ward off looters by involving local leaders in tourism activities connected to the ancient sites. She works closely with her husband Gregory Mumford, also a trained archeologist who works closely with the Department of Homeland Security on smuggled goods.

Barely 1% of the world’s likely archaeological sites have been identified or explored Parcak told The New York Times, so as Isis's power continues to spread in the area bringing devastation to archeological sites and cultural icons, the importance of satellite tracking has increased.

Real also:

Related content