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  • As an archaeologist,

  • I'm most often asked what my favorite discovery is.

  • The answer's easy:

  • my husband, Greg.

  • (Laughter)

  • We met in Egypt on my first dig.

  • It was my first lesson in finding unexpected, wonderful things.

  • This began an incredible archaeological partnership.

  • Years later, I proposed to him in front of our favorite pair statue

  • of the Prince and Princess Rahotep and Nofret,

  • in the Cairo Museum,

  • dating to 4,600 years ago.

  • I thought if I was going to ask Greg to spend the rest of this life with me,

  • then I should ask him in front of two people

  • who had pledged to be together for eternity.

  • These symbols endure because when we look at them,

  • we're looking at mirrors.

  • They are powerful reminders

  • that our common humanity has not changed.

  • The thrill of archaeological discovery is as powerful as love,

  • because ancient history is the most seductive mistress imaginable.

  • Many archaeologists have devoted their lives

  • to unraveling the mysteries of the past

  • under hot suns

  • and Arctic winds

  • and in dense rainforests.

  • Many seek.

  • Some discover.

  • All worship at the temple of possibility

  • that one discovery might change history.

  • On my first day in Egypt, I worked at a site

  • in the Northeast Egyptian Delta called Mendes, dating to 4,200 years ago,

  • in a cemetery.

  • That's a picture of me --

  • I'm just in my bliss.

  • On the dig, surrounded by emerald green rice paddies,

  • I discovered an intact pot.

  • Flipping it over,

  • I discovered a human thumbprint left by whoever made the vessel.

  • For a moment, time stood still.

  • I didn't know where I was.

  • It was because at that moment I realized,

  • when we dig,

  • we're digging for people,

  • not things.

  • Never are we so present as when we are in the midst of the great past.

  • I can't tell you how many times I've stood in front of the Pyramids of Giza,

  • and they leave me speechless.

  • I feel like the luckiest person in the world.

  • They're a monument to our human brilliance and everything that is possible.

  • Many cannot process their brilliance as human --

  • they think aliens built them.

  • But this is ridiculous.

  • All you need to do is get up close and personal,

  • and see the hidden hand of man

  • in the chisel marks left by the tools that built them.

  • The Great Pyramid of Giza was built one stone at a time

  • with 2.3 million blocks,

  • with incredible bureaucratic efficiency.

  • It is not the pyramids that stand the test of time;

  • it is human ingenuity.

  • That is our shared human brilliance.

  • History may be cyclical,

  • but we are singular.

  • I love what I do,

  • because I learn that we haven't changed.

  • I get to read about mother-in-law jokes from Mesopotamia

  • from 3,500 years ago.

  • (Laughter)

  • I get to hear about neighbors cursing each other

  • from 4,600 years ago in Egypt.

  • And my absolute favorite, from 3,300 years ago in Luxor:

  • an inscription that describes schoolboys who cut class to go drinking.

  • (Laughter)

  • Kids these days.

  • (Laughter)

  • I get to see the most incredible architecture,

  • see stunning sculptures --

  • I mean, this is basically a selfie in stone --

  • and see that we've always rocked serious bling.

  • And also, we've been posting on walls

  • and obsessing about cats --

  • (Laughter)

  • for thousands of years.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • Archaeologists are the cultural memory preservers

  • and the spokespeople

  • for the billions of people and the thousands of cultures

  • that came before us.

  • Good science, imagination and a leap of faith

  • are the trifecta we use to raise the dead.

  • In the last year,

  • archaeologists have made incredible discoveries, including:

  • new human ancestors from South Africa;

  • tools from 3.3 million years ago --

  • these are the oldest tools ever discovered --

  • in Kenya.

  • And this, from a series of medical implements found

  • from Blackbeard's ship from 1718.

  • What you're looking at is a medical tool used to treat syphilis.

  • Ouch!

  • (Laughter)

  • For each of these,

  • there are thousands of other incredibly important discoveries

  • made by my colleagues,

  • that do not make headlines.

  • However, I believe that the most important thing we do as archaeologists

  • is acknowledge that past people existed

  • and lived lives worth learning about.

  • Can you even imagine what the world would be like today

  • if we acknowledged all human beings in this way?

  • So, on a dig, we have a challenge:

  • it often looks like this.

  • You can't see anything.

  • Where are we going to start digging?

  • This is from a site south of Cairo.

  • Let's have a look from space.

  • Again, you can't really see much.

  • What you're looking at is a WorldView-3 satellite image,

  • which has a .3 meter resolution.

  • That's 10 inches.

  • This means that you can zoom in from 400 miles in space

  • and see your tablets.

  • How do I know about this?

  • It's because I'm a space archaeologist.

  • Let me repeat that.

  • I am a space archaeologist.

  • This means --

  • (Applause)

  • Thank you.

  • This means I use satellite images and process them using algorithms,

  • and look at subtle differences in the light spectrum

  • that indicate buried things under the ground

  • that I get to go excavate and survey.

  • By the way --

  • NASA has a Space Archaeology program,

  • so it's a real job.

  • (Laughter)

  • So, let's have a look again.

  • We're back at the site just south of Cairo.

  • You can't see anything.

  • Keep your eye on the red rectangle.

  • When we process the image using algorithms --

  • think like a space-based CAT scan --

  • this is what you see.

  • This rectilinear form is an ancient tomb

  • that is previously unknown and unexcavated,

  • and you all are the first people to see it in thousands of years.

  • (Applause)

  • I believe we have barely scratched the surface

  • in terms of what's left to discover.

  • In the Egyptian Delta alone,

  • we've excavated less than one-1000th of one percent

  • of the total volume of Egyptian sites.

  • When you add to that the thousands of other sites

  • my team and I have discovered,

  • what we thought we knew pales in comparison

  • to what we have left to discover.

  • When you look at the incredible work

  • that my colleagues are doing all around the world

  • and what they're finding,

  • I believe that there are millions of undiscovered archaeological sites

  • left to find.

  • Discovering them will do nothing less

  • than unlock the full potential of our existence.

  • But we have a challenge.

  • Over the last year,

  • we've seen horrible headlines

  • of incredible destruction going on to archaeological sites,

  • and massive looting by people like ISIL.

  • ISIL has destroyed temples at Palmyra.

  • Who blows up a temple?

  • They've destroyed the Tomb of Jonah.

  • And we've seen looting at sites so rampant,

  • it looks like craters of the moon.

  • Knowing ISIL's desire to destroy modern human lives,

  • it's a natural extension for them to destroy cultural identity as well.

  • Countless invading armies have done the same throughout history.

  • We know that ISIL is profiting from the looting of sites,

  • but we don't know the scale.

  • This means that any object purchased on the market today

  • from the Middle East

  • could potentially be funding terrorism.

  • When a site is looted,

  • it's as if a puzzle already missing 90 percent of it pieces

  • has had the rest obscured beyond recognition.

  • This is ancient identity theft writ large.

  • We know that there are two kinds of looting going on:

  • looting by criminal elements like ISIL,

  • and then more local looting by those that are desperate for money.

  • We would all do the same to feed our families;

  • I don't blame the local looters.

  • I blame the middlemen, the unethical traffickers

  • and an international art market

  • that exploits often ambiguous or even completely nonexistent laws.

  • We know looting is going on on a global scale and it's increasing,

  • but presently we don't have any tools to stop it.

  • This is beginning to change.

  • My team and I have just completed a study looking at looting in Egypt.

  • We looked at open-source data

  • and mapped the entirety of looting across Egypt

  • from 2002 to 2013.

  • We found evidence of looting and site destruction at 267 sites,

  • and mapped over 200,000 looting pits.

  • It's astonishing.

  • And putting that data together --

  • you can see the looting pits marked here.

  • At one site, the looting got bad from 2009, 2011, 2012 --

  • hundreds and hundreds of pits.

  • Putting all the data together,

  • what we found is that, contrary to popular opinion,

  • looting did not start to get worse in Egypt in 2011 after the Arab Spring,

  • but in 2009, after the global recession.

  • Thus, we've shown with big data

  • that looting is fundamentally an economic issue.

  • If we do nothing to stop the problem,

  • all of Egypt's sites will be affected by looting by 2040.

  • Thus, we are at a tipping point.

  • We are the generation with all the tools and all the technologies

  • to stop looting,

  • but we're not working fast enough.

  • Sometimes an archaeological site can surprise you with its resilience.

  • I am just back from the field,

  • where I co-led a joint mission with Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities

  • at a site called Lisht.

  • This site dates to the Middle Kingdom of Egypt between 2,000 and 1,750 BC.

  • The Middle Kingdom was Ancient Egypt's Renaissance period.

  • After a time of intense internal strife and environmental challenges,

  • Egypt rebounded

  • with an incredible resurgence of art, architecture and literature.

  • It's a favorite period of time to study in Egypt,

  • because it teaches us so much about how we can survive and thrive

  • after great disasters.

  • Now at this site, we had already mapped countless looting pits.

  • Lisht is a royal site;

  • there would have been thousands of people buried there

  • who lived and worked at the court of Pharaoh.

  • You can see this before and after; you see dozens of looting pits.

  • North Lisht.

  • This is in South Lisht, before and after.

  • When we first visited the site,

  • we could see the tombs of many high-ranking officials

  • that had been looted.

  • Let me put into perspective for you what was taken.

  • Imagine a two meter by two meter area full of coffins, jewelry

  • and incredible statuary.

  • Multiply that times over a thousand.

  • That's what was taken.

  • So, when we started work,

  • my Egyptian co-director, Mohamed Youssef, approached me and said,

  • "We must work at this one particular tomb.

  • It's been attacked by looters.

  • If we don't do anything, they'll be back."

  • Of course I agreed, but I didn't think we'd find anything.

  • I thought the looters had stolen everything.

  • What we started to find were the most incredible reliefs.

  • Look at this painting -- it's just stunning.

  • We started finding engraved inscriptions.

  • And even the titles of the tomb