“We are at a tipping point. The last five years have been horrific for archaeology. My colleagues and I have spent countless hours surveying the destruction, and the bad news trickles out in the press. Every day, we read reports of stolen ancient treasures sold at major auction houses, of incredible ancient sites bulldozed in Central America, of revered ancient sites in the Middle East blown up by ISIL. At the same time, we know that the systematic looting of ancient sites is funding terrorism and crime networks. It not only lines the bank accounts of the world’s bad guys; it means that experts don’t have the pieces they need in order to understand the puzzles of ancient civilizations. We are in real, true danger of losing our collective global history.

And yet, we also find ourselves at an incredible moment in history. We witnessed the birth of the digital era, and have experienced first-hand the incredible things that can happen when access to data intersects with the power of the crowd. The responsibility for solving the world’s problems no longer falls firmly on the shoulders of experts — people across the globe can work together toward solutions. This potential is only accelerating. With the march toward artificial intelligence, the birth of the Internet of Things, and the race to bring human life to other planets, possibilities seem endless. What we choose to do now matters. It could be our greatest legacy.

The future and the past are not as separate as they seem. We need to protect the ancient treasures of our world because they hold clues to our shared past, but also because they offer answers to the fundamental questions of existence: Who are we? Why are we here? What does it mean to be human? Archaeology gives us the tools to preserve our shared humanity and to understand what is most special about human beings throughout time — our resilience and creativity.

I said it in my talk at TED2016 and I’ll say it again: If we want to learn about our past, we need to invert the pyramids. A hundred years ago archaeology was for the rich, 50 years ago it was for men, and now it’s mainly for academics. But archaeology can be for everyone. We can crowdsource exploration and speed up the process of discovering and protecting ancient sites.

It is on us to preserve our past. I believe GlobalXplorer° will not just play a major role in changing how archaeology works — but in rewriting our collective history. I hope you’ll join me on the journey.”


Sarah Parcak, space archaeologist + 2016 TED Prize winner