Colorado State University archaeologist Chris Fisher was in the beginning stages of unearthing an ancient “megalopolis” in the state of Michoacán, Mexico, a decade ago when he ran up against a tough reality: it would take him the rest of his career to document such a huge find using traditional archaeological methods. Fisher is proposing to create what he is calling the Earth Archive.
From an article in Colorado Sun by Nancy Lofholm.
The buried city was not something he and his team could easily explore with brushes and trowels and string grids. It covered 26 square kilometers and had as many structure foundations as the island of Manhattan.
Fisher remembers slumping in the baking heat after he had walked the outlines of the city, and thinking, “Dude, there’s gotta be a better way.”
The solution would fast forward the field of archaeology. And it would lead Fisher to create an ambitious worldwide project he is calling Earth Archive. That project, which involves digitally scanning the surface of the entire planet, has the potential to ratchet up CSU’s already formidable status as a research university and place it at the hub of a worldwide database. It also could establish the best source of information showing what today’s world looks like.
“The Earth is changing incredibly rapidly and the changes are dramatic,” Fisher said. “It is happening much quicker than we thought it would.”
Using LiDAR, a remote-sensing technology, to create a detailed 3-D planetary snapshot of the world as it is now, he said, is “our ultimate gift to future generations.” The images would show ancient cities along with current forests, shorelines, glaciers, developments and all other topographical features that are being altered quickly with climate change and with human developments such as deforestation and urban sprawl. Fisher cited fires in the Amazon rainforest and developments at a remote Honduran city he studied as examples. He said those changes are coming so fast that his project is urgent.
Meghan Suter, whose job as director of the Research Acceleration Office at CSU involves sorting through proposals to determine what might fly as legitimate university research, calls Fisher’s Earth Archive project one of the biggest and most complex that has crossed her desk — and one of the most intriguing.
“We’re excited about the potential this project brings to the university and to global research,” Suter said. “It gives us the opportunity to explore something across so many disciplines.”
To go back to the beginning — and the frustration that led to this much-more-than-pie-in-the-sky project — Fisher had just returned to his desk job at CSU and poked his head in an anthropology department colleague’s door to gripe about the daunting task he faced.
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