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Join the satellite hunt for Peru’s lost cities

Sarah Parcak
University of Alabama archaeologist Sarah Parcak checks satellite imagery of a target site. (National Geographic via YouTube)

Armed with a $1 million TED Prize, archaeologists today launched the GlobalXplorer.org crowdsourcing project to scan satellite imagery for signs of ancient settlements.

“Archaeologists can’t do this on their own,” Parcak told National Geographic, one of the collaborators in the project. “If we don’t go and find these sites, looters will.”

The 38-year-old archaeologist from the University of Alabama at Birmingham has already made a good start, by using satellite images to identify buried pyramids in Egypt and a covered-over Viking village in Newfoundland.

Such feats (and her fedora) have earned her a snazzy nickname – “Indiana Jones of the 21st century” – and more importantly, $1 milllion in seed money from the TED Prize program.

That money has gone toward building a platform that takes in high-resolution images from DigitalGlobe’s satellites and sorts them for perusal by registered GlobalXplorer users. Online tutorials train the users to spot and flag potential archaeological sites, based on subtle variations in vegetation. The most promising crowdsourced sites are put on the list for on-the-ground exploration.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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