Her laptop brims with satellite images pitted with thousands of black dots, evidence of excavations across Egypt where looters have tunneled in search of mummies, jewelry and other valuables prized by collectors, advertised in auction catalogs and trafficked on eBay, a criminal global black market estimated in the billions of dollars.
“For the first time technology has gotten to the point where we can map looting,” said Sarah H. Parcak, a pioneering “satellite archaeologist,” founding director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Laboratory for Global Observation and an associate professor there.
Satellite eyes in the sky, which have transformed the worldwide search for buried archaeological treasures, are now being used to spy on the archenemies of cultural preservation: armies of looters who are increasingly pockmarking ancient sites with illicit digs and making off with priceless patrimony.
Nowhere is the tracking effort more advanced than Egypt, where a program led by Dr. Parcak and funded by the National Science Foundation and National Geographic has targeted thievery that, experts say, worsened after the chaos of the 2011 revolution.
And now, in a powerful endorsement of work that may bolster efforts to cripple looting across the Middle East and the rest of the world, TED, the nonprofit forum with the motto “ideas worth spreading,” is scheduled on Monday to announce that Dr. Parcak, 36, has won its most prestigious award — a $1 million prize to develop a project of her choice. Details of the project are to be revealed in a live broadcast of her talk at the TED conference in February in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Looting and destruction in Iraq and Syria by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, have drawn more attention in recent months. And cultural thievery remains a problem in Egypt, where last week the government seized 1,124 stolen artifacts at the port of Damietta. They were en route to Thailand, according to the Al Bawaba news service.
Tracking the Looting of Archaeological Sites
Archaeologists use satellite images like the ones below to track possible looting of artifacts at ancient burial sites. The first two images show an area south of Cairo, where the underground tombs of wealthy Egyptians from the Middle Kingdom, circa 2030-1640 B.C., are located.
Barely 1 percent of the world’s likely archaeological sites have been identified or explored, Dr. Parcak said, so countless sites remain to be discovered by scientists or looters.
The Latest on: Looting of archaeological sites
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The Latest on: Looting of archaeological sites
- World unites to help save Iraq’s archaeological treasureson November 20, 2020 at 7:12 pm
A network of support focuses on preventing further theft after chunk of human history was destroyed over three decades ...
- Ancient Egyptian artefacts looted from Mit Rahinaon November 20, 2020 at 4:00 pm
An investigation is underway into the looting of Ancient Egyptian artefacts ... the director of Mit Rahina archaeological site, and local guards and security personnel about the incident.
- Writers on the Range: Thieves of antiquity (column)on November 17, 2020 at 10:44 pm
Congress enacted the 430-word Antiquities Act in 1906 to stop the looting of artifacts from archaeological sites on public lands. The law also gave the president discretionary authority to ...
- FBI Art Theft Programon November 17, 2020 at 4:00 pm
Many art thefts are actually lootings from either institutions or from archaeological sites, sometimes from churches ... cultural property looting as well. So the number-one on our list, though ...
- The discovery of a lost, ancient worldon November 17, 2020 at 4:00 pm
Future of the Past explores important cultural heritage sites around the world ... threats to the rainforest and its archaeology have been logging and looting. A transformative technology is ...
- Threats to a Maya rainforeston November 17, 2020 at 11:45 am
Historically, threats to the rainforest and its archaeology have been logging and looting. This lost Guatamalan world has shifted how archaeologists see the Maya civilisation. A transformative ...
- Starchitect David Adjaye’s Museum of West African Art in Nigeria Will Be Dramatically Built Into the Ruins of the Former Benin Palaceon November 16, 2020 at 11:24 am
Valuable archaeological remains from the former Kingdom of Benin are buried beneath the proposed site for the forthcoming ... history—including the mass looting of the Benin royal palace by ...
- Looting of cultural heritage is as old as humanity itselfon November 10, 2020 at 1:55 am
"Looting of cultural heritage is as old as ... of health security - when there are fewer patrols especially on archaeological sites often far from cities - other areas are less covered," said ...
- Record-Setting Sale Of An Ancient Assyrian Stone Relief Sparks Looting Fears In Iraqon November 3, 2020 at 11:16 pm
ISIS destroyed pre-Islamic sites as idolatrous ... whole bunch of new looting because the prices of antiquities will go up," says McGuire Gibson, professor of Mesopotamian archaeology at the ...
- The Politics of Archaeology In Iraq With Christopher Woods (Ep. 31)on August 2, 2020 at 10:25 pm
If the looting of the Baghdad museum is on one end of the archaeology as statecraft spectrum ... we've excavated dozens of sites from Tunisia to Iran, but many of these sites have really become sort ...
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