National Geographic Fellow Sarah Parcak is often described as a hybrid of Indiana Jones and Google Earth. An archaeologist, Egyptologist and founder of GlobalXplorer, Parcak is pioneering the field of space archaeology, using futuristic tools to unlock past secrets and transform how discoveries are made. Her work has received accolades worldwide, including the 2016 TED Prize.
This month, Parcak received yet another honor, the Antiquity Prize 2017, for a paper detailing research funded in part by the National Geographic Society. The Antiquity Prize is an annual award given to the best article from the previous year in the peer-reviewed journal of world archaeology, Antiquity. This year’s winners were announced in the August 2017 issueof Antiquity.
The prize-winning article, “Satellite evidence of archaeological site looting in Egypt: 2002–2013,” was originally published in the February 2016 issue of Antiquity. In it, Parcak provides detailed analysis of her work with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities to chart an upsurge in looting in Egypt.
From 2002 to 2013, Parcak led a team of space archaeologists to map looting, damage and site destruction patterns across Egypt using open-source Google Earth Pro satellite data. The research team documented evidence of looting at 267 archaeological sites, counting roughly 200,000 individual looting pits, as well as a staggering increase in looting across Egypt.
Based on analysis of the satellite maps and subsequent ground truthing, the research team concluded that looting is fundamentally an economic issue with deep connections to youth unemployment, rising inflation and declining tourism.
According to Parcak: “This is the first time we’ve been able to quantify the full extent of looting in Egypt, which many archaeologists have witnessed in the field. If left unabated, by 2040 all of Egypt’s sites will be affected by looting. Therefore, understanding the socioeconomic pressures driving the spike in looting is critical to creating viable long-term strategies to contain it.”
Since the publication of the article, Parcak and the project team have continued to work with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities to combat site looting. Together, they are developing new open-source training tools for Ministry inspectors via the “Joint Egypt-U.S. Lisht Mission” to train the next generation of Egyptians to preserve and protect Egypt’s storied past