Thursday, November 26, 2015

The future of archaeology

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: The Future Of Archaeology Is Not Digging Anything Up. The 2016 TED Prize winner is reinventing how we discover—and preserve—the past (Jessica Leber, Fast Company).
Most archaeologists can be happy to uncover a small handful of important ancient sites in their careers. Sarah Parcak, a young professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has already pinpointed thousands, making her among the most productive archaeologist working today.

How is this possible? She hunts for evidence of buried civilizations from the vantage of space. Using satellite imagery, she can see traces of underground artifacts that no one on Earth could ever spot without a shovel. In Egypt alone, where there are 138 known pyramids, she’s identified 17 potential new ones, as well as 1,000 tombs and 3,100 unknown settlements. All of this won her this year’s TED Prize, a $1 million award announced last week, along with countless comparisons to Indiana Jones.

An example of practical application of the new technologies:
Once potential sites are identified, of course, they must be verified by humans on the ground—so most of her potential sites have yet to be explored. As a result, she collaborates with many archaeologist all over the world. She describes one recent discovery made in Tunisia: Next to a Roman-era fort from 2,000 years ago, imagery showed something unusual was nearby. Upon further investigation, they encountered dense concentrations of slag—the evidence of burning.

"What we found was a massive pottery production center," she says. The site was actually a settled center of trade, not just another of the typical forts that would have defended the ancient road in Roman times.
And this prediction:
Parcak sees a trend where the digging—can expose safely buried antiquities to looting and other dangerous becomes less necessary. "Technology is improving. At what point can we zoom in from space and see a tiny pot shard from a site? I think we’ll be there in 10 years," she says.

In 20 or 30 years, she imagines archaeologists may stop excavating entirely and send tiny robots to explore underground—-leaving the treasures undisturbed for the benefit of future generations.
What I've been saying. Non-invasive and non-destructive technologies are the way of the future. And the future is coming soon.

More on Professor Parcak's work is here.