Archaeologists' use of satellite imagery, LIDAR, drones, and the like has taken an innovative turn thanks to Sarah Parcak PhD. In 2016 she and her organization launched an online platform, GlobalXplorer°, which uses crowdsourcing methods to analyze satellite images. Volunteers use the platform to help Dr. Parcak and her team identify possible archaeological sites and assess their risks of looting and destruction. DigitalGlobe (Maxar) provides the satellite imagery; National Geographic provides content and collaborative support.
Dr. Parcak's past projects have located numerous potential archaeological sites throughout the world, including 17 potential pyramids, an estimated 3,100 forgotten settlements, and 1,000 potential lost tombs in Egypt; and significant discoveries in the Viking world as well as the Roman Empire. Her organization reports that "...[Dr. Parcak's] methods have proved over 90% successful in producing significant discoveries."
The online platform GlobalXplorer°'s first project was mapping areas of Peru (see image, above, via medium.com - photo by Jennifer Wolfe). The Peru expedition was completed in 2017; in 2018 Parcak's team reported that among the results they achieved, "...GlobalXplorer° has started changing the face of archaeology by making ordinary citizens part of the process. The crowd’s eyes are accurate to 85%, looting sites were very easily and accurately spotted and thousands of sites of interest were found — and fast."
GlobalXplorer° has not yet announced a new project but National Geographic explains the details applicable to any new expedition. Volunteers take a short tutorial and then start to:
"...search through “tiles,” or snapshots of the Earth’s surface, looking for hints of looting, construction, or other encroachment, as well as signs of ruins that modern archaeologists have yet to find. Advanced users will have access to images that reveal differences in vegetation health—a clue to what lies hidden in the soil, such as buried ruins.
Preventing looters from finding new sites was central to building the GlobalXplorer° platform. The high-resolution satellite images are broken into tens of millions of small tiles and displayed to users in a random order without the ability to navigate or pan out. The tiles do not contain any location reference or coordinate information."
Avocational archaeologists are encouraged to study GlobalXplorer°'s website, especially their FAQs page. To get an idea of the kind of satellite imagery that volunteers examine, National Geographic provides 19 examples from some of Dr. Parcak's past projects. See how many potential archaeological features you can find!