It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since GlobalXplorer° (GX°) completed Expedition Peru. While it may seem as though things have gone quiet, behind the scenes, the GlobalXplorer° team has been busy laying the groundwork for its next adventure. And it’s a big one. We’re going to India!

Feb 13 · 5 min read

From the Hill Forts of Rajasthan to the Khajuraho Temples to the ruins of the ancient city of Hampi, India is, of course, vast in both space and time. Populated by more than 1 billion people, the country covers 3.287 million square kilometers and encompasses 29 states — each with its own rich heritage and languages. Meanwhile, its 5,000-year span of history takes in an incredible array of cultures, including its Buddhist, Hindu and Jain traditions, the Indus Valley Civilization, the Gupta Empire and so many others. All this makes it an exciting place for citizen scientist GlobalXplorers to set up virtual camp and start exploring.

Joining us in announcing Expedition India is our main in-country partner, the Tata Trusts–one of India’s oldest philanthropic organizations–and one of our founding partners, National Geographic Society.

We can’t think of a richer or more vibrant country for our citizen scientists to start mapping next!

Archaeological communities consist of more than just archaeologists. Local residents often have deep knowledge of an area’s geology, anthropology, history, traditions and ancient sites, making them formidable citizen science partners in archaeological research and preservation. Above left: A truck driver in the remote Zanskar Valley, Northern India. (Photo: sandeepachetan) Above right: An excavation in Jwalapuram, where archaeologist Ravi Korisettar and his team made an unlikely but exciting discovery: Paleolithic stone tools above and below layers of ash from a volcanic eruption 74,000 years ago. (Photo: Sanjay P. K.)

The vibrant archaeological community in India

India’s archaeological heritage, research and conservation are stewarded
by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) — a historied professional body comprising thousands of archaeologists. The ASI is a branch of India’s Ministry of Culture, which oversees all of India’s cultural heritage, including management of its 3,685 archaeological sites.

Meanwhile, India’s universities boast thousands of archaeology students, who will work together to document, explore, study and preserve India’s archaeological sites. GX° is excited to bring its citizen science community into contact with this new generation of archaeologists. In fact, we hope that as our ranks continue to grow, a majority of our new GlobalXplorers who sign up for this expedition will come from India itself.

Of the 3,685 sites managed by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), 35 are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, requiring the most careful of stewardship. Above, the magnificent Taj Mahal attracts 7–8 million visitors annually. (Photo: Allan Hopkins)
Complexity is synonymous with India. The diversity of scripts, dialects, dress, food and culture that shapes modern life in India today is a direct descendant of its complex heritage. Nowhere is this more clear than in India’s ancient sites, the management of which is also a complex undertaking. Above, Cave 32, Ellora Caves, one of the largest monastery-temple complexes in the world. (Photo: Santanu Sen)

Sites under siege

As in many countries, the totality of India’s archaeological heritage has not
yet been fully mapped. Our global estimates suggest that only a small percentage of the country’s heritage sites have so far been located, excavated, studied and preserved. Meanwhile, antiquities remain under threat from development and looting.

This is where GlobalXplorerº Expedition India comes in. We’re creating tools to be used by the archeological community in India to accelerate the identification and protection of the country’s cultural heritage.

Illustration by GlobalXplorerº. Map source provided by Tata Trusts.

Space-age capacity joins a venerable tradition

One of our first goals is to establish a comprehensive baseline database of India’s known and studied archaeological sites — a document that will cover centuries’ worth of archaeological scholarship. Our GlobalXplorers will
help upload the new information into the database.

Once that’s done, we’ll use the same satellite imaging technique as we did with our Peru Expedition, to map the whole of India’s visible heritage. Due to India’s size and varied landscapes, though, we’ll map the country one state at a time. With the continued growth of the GX° Satellite Remote Sensing Program, it may be possible to finish mapping India within three years.

1. Traditional image mapping relies entirely on the eyes of humans to identify satellite tiles that are empty of potential archaeological sites, as well as ones with features. 2. Machine learning allows humans to train computers to effectively see what they see — including empty tiles, which can then be ruled out. 3. Eventually, the computer’s vision is so good, it can tackle the more mundane task on its own, leaving the more exciting work of identification of potential sites to the GlobalXplorers.

Speeding things up with machine learning

Those of you who were with us in Peru might notice this equals a much speedier timeline for India. Given that it took three months for our over 80,000 current volunteers to explore 150,000 square kilometers in Peru, you may ask how this is possible.

The secret lies in machine learning. We’re working with top technology partners to create a mapping tool that uses artificial intelligence to automate the process of eliminating those satellite tiles that contain either impenetrable landscape or no features of interest.

Identifying tiles without sites and eliminating them was GlobalXplorers’ main task during the Peru expedition. Now you’ll get to tackle the next step in the process: identifying tiles with sites of interest. Your votes will then be fed back into the machine, further increasing machine learning accuracy.

Preventing looting, using the blockchain

But that’s not all. We are also building something brand new: the GlobalXplorerº Antiquities Registry will add a layer of security to the archaeological data held in the database. Once an individual site is fully mapped, archaeologists and GX° volunteers will use iPads loaded with our blockchain-enabled app to document idols, temples and archaeological features so their provenance is immutably proven and they can be securely tracked. If any of these items later show up on the black market, they’ll already be tagged and on the blockchain, creating a valid and straightforward path to repatriation.

At first, we’ll be further developing and testing our blockchain technology with a pilot group of archaeologists in India. We envision someday licensing this app to heritage professionals for use as an excavation and documentation tool at archaeological and cultural sites around the world.

Even a concentrated area of India can be incredibly expansive in its history and artifacts. This is the Indian subcontinent, as seen from 36,000 kilometers above Earth. The yellow rectangle denotes the same area shown in the next photograph — an approximate 150,000-square-kilometer area in the Jaipur District in Rajasthan State. Photo: Joshua Stevens, NASA’s Earth Observatory
Above left: Fort Jaigarh, built in 1726, sits high in the mountains of the northern Aravalli Range in Jaipur, overlooking Amer Palace below. It is surrounded by a vast stone wall (the world’s third largest) that crosses the mountain ridges. The blue rectangle denotes the section of the stone wall shown in the next image. (Photo: Shutterstock) Above right: An approximate 15-meter (50-foot) section of the Amer Fort wall. Space archaeologists, including GlobalXplorers, can often identify built structures like stone walls in the satellite images they search. (Photo: Andrej Trnkoczy)

This is, of course, just the beginning. There’s much more to tell you, swathes of treasure to discover and great adventures to come. Watch this space for developments as they unfold, and we hope you’ll join us for Expedition India this fall!


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GlobalXplorerº is an online platform that uses the power of the crowd+AI+blockchain to find, protect, and monitor archeological sites and antiquities.

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