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An archaeologist who uses modern satellite technology to locate and help save ancient archaeological sites in the Middle East from destruction is the winner of the $1 million TED Prize for 2016.
Sarah Parcak, an anthropology professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she founded the Laboratory for Global Observation, has been described as a “modern-day Indiana Jones” for her field exploits.
According to TED Prize officials, she is credited with using satellite infrared imagery to help map 17 potential pyramids, 1,000 tombs and 3,100 unknown settlements in Egypt. She has also written a textbook on the use of satellite remote sensing for archaeology.
Parcak is now using data from satellite imagery to help combat looting at archaeological sites across the Middle East. Her work is especially critical given the recent desecration of history-rich artifacts and ruins in places like Palmyra, the ancient Syrian city that the Islamist militant group ISIS conquered earlier this year.
"The last four and half years have been horrific for archaeology. I’ve spent a lot of time, as have many of my colleagues, looking at the destruction," Parcak said in a statement. "This Prize is not about me. It’s about our field. It’s about the thousands of men and women around the world, particularly in the Middle East, who are defending and protecting sites."
She hopes to use the grant money to speed up the process of locating and protecting ancient sites.
The TED Prize is a $1 million grant awarded annually to a person "with a creative, bold vision to spark global change." Last year's winner was Dave Isay, the founder of the oral history project StoryCorps.