Alabama’s Sarah Parcak among 100 Global Thinkers

Alabama’s Sarah Parcak among 100 Global Thinkers
Dr. Sarah Parcak, Ph.D., an associate professor in Anthropology at UAB, speaks at a news conference announcing her 2016 TED Prize to develop a program to use satellites to protect the world's cultural treasures from looters. (Contributed)

Sarah Parcak, Ph.D., archaeologist and associate professor in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences Department of Anthropology has been named one of Foreign Policy Magazine’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2016.

Dr. Sarah Parcak, PhD (Anthropology) stands near the Great Sphinx in Giza, Egypt, 2007. PHOTO COURTESY OF SARAH PARCAK.
Parcak, renowned Egyptologist, near the Great Sphinx in Giza, Egypt. (Contributed)

Each year, the magazine recognizes the world’s pre-eminent thought leaders and public intellectuals in its annual issue “100 Leading Global Thinkers.” Honorees include a wide range of leaders, advocates, innovators, artists, government officials and visionaries from around the world, and are selected by the magazine’s editors based on their standout contributions over the past year and ability to translate ideas into action that change and shape the world.

“The 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2016 are emblematic of our innate desire to confront pessimism rather than surrender to despair, to challenge ugliness rather than resign to failure,” write the editors of Foreign Policy Magazine in introducing this year’s class. “The Global Thinkers honored are proof that, as society’s pillars falter, individuals step in to bear the weight. The honorees demonstrated how private citizens can ease the suffering of others. They subverted traditional power structures to craft solutions to social, economic and environmental problems. They pledged personal wealth to create a safer, healthier future for all.”

Honorees are organized into nine categories — decision-makers, challengers, innovators, advocates, artists, healers, stewards, chroniclers and moguls. This year’s honorees include Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau, Joko Widodo, Priscilla Chan, Mark Zuckerberg and David Archambault II.

Sarah Parcak is being honored as one of 100 Global Thinkers. (Contributed)
Parcak is being honored as one of 100 Global Thinkers. (Contributed)

Parcak was named one of seven innovators whom the editors for Foreign Policy Magazine said asked one fundamental question: What does the world need next?

“Like never before, global development and war are pushing archaeologists into a race against time — so much so that Sarah Parcak is revolutionizing the already-modern field of space archaeology,” said the FP Global Thinkers summary of the UAB professor. “That discipline uses satellite imagery to uncover the planet’s historical artifacts and can track looting and destruction patterns. However, there aren’t enough archaeologists to study the world’s surface before parts of it disappear. Now Parcak is recruiting her own citizen army for the research. GlobalXplorer, which she developed this year, functions like ‘a super-high-tech version of Google Earth,’ and allows anyone with an Internet connection to scrutinize satellite imagery of ancient locales. Parcak hopes GlobalXplorer will be the way to ‘find and protect the world’s hidden heritage.’”

The platform will also be a hub for conversations about new sites discovered, protected sites and the future of technology in archaeology. Peru has been selected as the first project site for GlobalXplorer.

An expert in the field of remote sensing, Parcak uses earth-facing satellites to collect high-resolution imagery in order to locate potential archaeological sites around the world. Once the images are processed, the infrared satellite technology allows Parcak and her team to see what the naked eye cannot: chemical changes in the landscape caused by building materials and the activities of those who once inhabited the land.

RELATED: UAB’s Parcak to receive Smithsonian’s 2016 American Ingenuity Award

Parcak has gained international attention for satellite mapping all of Egypt and unearthing 17 potential unknown pyramids (adding to the 138 known ones), 1,000 tombs and 3,100 settlements. She and her team have since uncovered thousands of additional ancient sites across Europe, the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic and have also used satellite technology to map extensive looting in post-revolution Egypt. Recent discoveries include a previously unknown structure in Petra, a 2,500-year-old Nabataean city in southern Jordan, and evidence of a potential second Viking site in North America, the subject of PBS NOVA’s two-hour special, “Vikings Unearthed.”

Parcak is a TED Senior Fellow, National Geographic Fellow and recipient of the 2016 TED Prize. With the $1 million prize, Parcak and a team of experts have established GlobalXplorer, set to launch in January 2017. Click here to sign up for updates and learn more about GlobalXplorer.

Honorees named to Foreign Policy’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers list will be recognized during a celebration in Washington, D.C., to coincide with the release of the print issue.

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