Hacking Archaeology: Beyond Shovels or iSandbox?

Sarah Parcak
Dertouzos Distinguished Lecture - November 2, 2016

Sarah Parcak, University of Alabama-Birmingham

Archaeology is now beginning to enter the age of "big data", where countrywide/culture-wide data are available, yet archaeologists are only beginning to develop appropriate computational tools to handle and evaluate them. Compared to many other fields, archaeology has only just begun to be “hacked”, with 3D printing, satellite imagery, crowdsourcing, and new digital recording techniques. What else could be done on the ground using low cost sensors and robots? This talk will present the current state of archaeology and discuss new and innovative and approaches being used at diverse ancient sites. It will suggest areas where using sensors could potentially change the field, making fieldwork more efficient, inexpensive, and accessible to a broader audience. The talk will also show how the analysis of high resolution satellite images (using specific algorithms) can be combined with on the ground sensors to improve site mapping and feature discovery, focusing on Egypt and Peru as case studies. How new 3D modelling approaches using open source software may change the field will also be discussed.


Sarah Parcak is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and is the Founding Director of the UAB Laboratory for Global Observation. She is the author of Satellite Remote Sensing for Archaeology (Routledge 2009). Her research represents the first large-scale landscape archaeology approaches to the field of Egyptology. Her remote sensing work has been the focus of two BBC-Discovery Channel specials on the use of satellite remote sensing in Archaeology: Egypt’s Lost Cities (2011), and Rome: What Lies Beneath (2012). She has published numerous peer-reviewed papers and presented at conferences and symposia across the globe. Sarah is the 2016 TED Prize winner, a National Geographic Fellow, a TED Senior Fellow, and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.

Dertouzos Distinguished Lecture Series

The Dertouzos Lecture Series has been a tradition since 1976, featuring some of the most influential thinkers in computer science, including Bill Gates, Steven Jobs, Donald Knuth, John McCarthy, and Mitchell Kapor. Formerly the Distinguished Lecture Series, the series has been renamed in memory of Michael Dertouzos, Director for the Lab for Computer Science from 1974 to 2001.