How a Female Indiana Jones from Bangor Makes you Think of Big Data in the Cloud

I always enjoy reading about women in the technology sector who are doing great things for the industry. There is no better example of this than Sarah Parcak – a Maine native of Bangor- who uses 21st century technology to bring innovation to archaeology.

According to the TED talk website, Sarah Parcak has been influential in locating 17 potential pyramids in Egypt. She’s also found 3,100 settlements which were forgotten. It doesn’t end there; she’s discovered 1,000 lost tombs and made new discoveries throughout the Roman Empire.

Part of the reason these discoveries are important is because they have a greater chance of being protected once found. To find them Parcak uses images collected from a satellite that flies around 450 miles high and looks for subtle changes on Earth’s surface. These changes, though small, go through an algorithm that mathematically computes the slight variations that have occurred for a particular duration.

Those of us in Maine can be proud to know that Parcak is representing the bastion of intellect that originates from Vacationland, as she is the person who won the 2016 TED Talk prize. (If you’re are unfamiliar with TED talks, I highly advise that you visit their website right now!)

Technology Makes Physical Labor Easier


One article written on the TED website titled, “The Many Wonders of Space Archaeology” truly shows how technology saves humans from the labor of an otherwise more difficult task. Typical archaeological research that is based on the ground takes years of work that can be done in a fraction of the same time by using satellite images that are laser focused with high resolution. This is called satellite imaging. Since I love Star Trek (especially The Next Generation), this type of innovation is exciting to me. What is even more interesting is how Parcak makes use of this technology. The article brings to light the expertise she has on space archaeology, a topic for which she was first to write a book on the subject titled Satellite Remote Sensing for Archaeology, and for which she gave a TED talk here. For me, this expertise pushes and influences the boundaries of what is considered “typical tools” for earth-based exploration and makes me question whether space tools should be a standard in archaeological research.

According to Parcak aerial photography has been used since the 1920s while infrared photography, since 1960s. Parcak credits Tom Sever as the forerunner of space archaeology. From my perspective all technology has forerunners, so to speak, who set the precedent for future technologies to evolve from.  Since his first seminal conference in 1984 more graduate students who are studying archaeology are entering into the field and causing it to become practice. This is similar to cloud technology now becoming a standard when server terminals were the first true cloud infrastructures. Used correctly, modern cloud technology can save organizations more in the long run.

Using space tools for archeology also saves time and money. It prepares archeologists for whether or not they should travel to a particular location to perform a dig. This is accomplished by using a database that stores all high resolution images. Archaeologists are able to pull from this central database and create a layered database using the satellite imagery. Previous layers are updated and analyzed to show different images on earth’s surface, thus showing various kinds of data on one map. For example, on earth’s surface there exists multiple “layers” of objects; You have buildings, streets, vegetation, all of which have patterns and relationships. By looking at the multiple layers being displayed on a single map, archaeologists can compare locations of different objects and discover how they relate without having to travel multiple times to those locations.

Cloud Technology, Big Data and GIS Systems

So how does this story relate to data storage? In order for a geographic information system to work efficiently it must be able to efficiently store data and offer it to be used whenever required. As you can see, a GIS system is built upon the philosophy of accumulating current data in order to update and make sense of historical data. Each image must be stored and kept in order to make comparison for future images. It is clear that effective data storage is an important aspect for the system to function appropriately. Parcak, who was able to map the entire city of Tanis, does this by using high resolution satellite imagery, which, for those of you who’ve taken high definition video or photographs know, fills up your data space quickly.

A cloud environment would allow various types of users use to access the data¬† – and they don’t necessarily have to be archaeologists. Biologists can use this for tracking animal migration while city officials can use it to help plan for a natural disaster like earthquakes. The users have greater mobility if their data doesn’t need to reside on their actual device. As more people find value in the use of a GIS system, the more it makes sense to back up this data into a central location where users can access it on any device.

Just like the innovations in archaeology must be stored and kept safe, so too should organizations in Maine consider backing up data (or offshoring the labor of handling backups) to a local cloud environment. This will give your workforce access to the data at the same time while alleviating your management tasks. There are cloud providers in Maine who can help with this, but choosing the right one is important. Email if you have questions on where to look.






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