Sunday, 5 November 2017

GlobalXplorer and "Space Archaeology"

When I was looking for sources for my final paper, I stumbled on the "GlobalXplorer" project ( 
The project is funded by the 2016 TED prize, won by Sarah Parcak, Egyptologist and Faculty Member at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (U.S.).
The goals of GlobalXplorer are discover archaeological sites in Peru using high resolution satellite images, protect these sites from looting and then help communities who live near these archaeological sites (

The most innovative aspect of GlobalXplorer is the public engagement: everyone can create an account and, after a short "training", analyze satellite images and contribute to discover archaeological sites.
The project is also sponsored by National Geographic and in an online article Parcak says "Archaeologists can’t do this on their own. If we don't go and find these sites, looters will.” GlobalXplorer is compared to a videogame that "... will appeal to people who want to be part of the work that goes into making actual discoveries and solving ancient riddles—and stopping the destruction of our human heritage.” (

Most articles about GlobalXplorer and "Space Archaeology" shows how every single person can become a modern Indiana Jones (and I personally hate the parallelism Indiana Jones-archaeology). In addition, there is a sort of sensationalization of archaeology (let's just think about the term "space archaeology or the description of Dr. Parcak as an "archaeological evangelist".)

What do you think about these kind of project or this specific project? Do you think that it is a good way to engage the public? And, is it good to to engage public in satellite imagery analysis for archaeological purpose? What do you think abou this sensationalization and "gamification" of the discipline?

1 comment:

Arwen Johns said...

I personally think that this type of public engagement is some of the most productive we can hope for as archaeologists for a few different reasons. This format allows for the public to feel like they are becoming part of a project, which I'm assuming fosters a much deeper sense of engagement. Framing these platforms as combating looting is also an effective means to both legitimately help archaeology, but also to instill a feeling of productiveness in the public as they will develop a greater sense of having "helped". This would also perhaps create a body of individuals interested in preserving archaeological heritage globally via the creation of a panopticon-esque sense of constant monitoring of sites.

As for the sensationalist and "gamification" tendencies, I'm of two minds. On the one hand I see sensationalism as a negative sign that archaeologists are feeling manipulated into putting a particular spin on their work, especially when dealing with powerful and prestigious companies like National Geographic. On the other hand though, I find myself wondering where is the line between acceptable/unacceptable levels of media-spin in the name of fostering more meaningful engagements with the public?