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Amateurs can hunt relics with ‘Indiana Jones’ site

TED PAYS OFF:Archeologist Sarah Parcak had wished for a ‘citizen science’ platform a year ago. On Monday, that dream became a reality with


A technology-wielding archeologist billed as a real-world “Indiana Jones” on Monday launched an online platform that lets anyone help discover archeological wonders and fight looting.

A “citizen science” platform that space archeologist Sarah Parcak wished for a year ago as part of a coveted TED prize went live at

“The world’s hidden heritage contains clues to humankind’s collective resilience and creativity,” Parcak said in a news release. “With GlobalXplorer we are empowering a 21st century army of global explorers to discover and protect our shared history.”

A video of the archeologist unveiling the wish was posted online on Monday at

GlobalXplorer blends satellite imagery with pattern-hunting of a sort to make a game of spotting clues to the whereabouts of antiquities or looting.

Visitors to the Web site are invited to sign in and take a quick tutorial before virtually hunting relics and thieves.

Spending time scrutinizing satellite imagery lets people “level up” as in video games and earn rewards such as a chance to virtually join archeologists on actual digs.

“Parcak’s wish has put the tools in everyone’s hands to discover and protect humanity’s rich history, effectively opening up a traditionally closed discipline,” TED prize director Anna Verghese said. “Now our stories are safeguarded by millions rather than just a handful.”

Only tiny sections of imagery are shown, along with broad location data such as what country is involved, to avoid being a resource for looters seeking tips of where to search.

DigitalGlobe, which specializes in capturing high-resolution pictures of the Earth from space, said that it provided more than 200,000 square kilometers of satellite imagery of Peru and a customized version of an online crowdsourcing tool.

National Geographic and Sustainable Preservation Initiative (SPI) were listed among collaborators on the project.

Archeologists are to follow up on sites pinpointed by the “crowd,” paving the way for protection from governments or law enforcement agencies.

“As soon as they see new or destroyed sites from space, we will be there on the ground to investigate and protect them,” SPI founder Larry Coben said.

Parcak envisions a 21st century army of citizen scientists discovering and defending relics. She has condemned destruction of antiquities by the likes of extremists from the Islamic State group and saw looting done by the desperately poor as “heartbreaking.”

The TED Prize provides US$1 million to launch a big vision and opens a door to call on the nonprofit organization’s innovative, influential and ingenious community of “tedsters” for help.

The TED community includes scientists, celebrities, politicians, artists and entrepreneurs.

Parcak is a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she founded the Laboratory for Global Observation.

She has won attention for her work satellite mapping Egypt and uncovering hidden pyramids, tombs and settlements.

The annual TED Prize has grown from US$100,000 to US$1 million since it was first awarded in 2005 to U2 band leader Bono and his vision of fighting poverty and disease.

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