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looting

Iraq and looting

There are two interesting news pieces about Iraqi antiquities that have been making the rounds recently.  The first one is an opinion piece by a U.S. Marine Colonel who argues that looted antiquities from Iraq are being used to fund terrorist activities.  It's a short read, and another interesting and depressing perspective on looting in the region.  My opinions about the relationship between collecting and looting tend to be somewhat negative, and so I wasn't surprised that Col. Bogdanos points out that a lot of these objects end up seeming "clean" because it's more profitable for museums and auction houses to simply not bother questioning their invented provenances.  I'm also not sure I hold much hope that this particular line of argument will be more successful in preventing people from buying illicit antiquities than any other.  This isn't Looting Matters, though, and I'm actually bringing the piece up for a different reason.  I was initially a bit offended by this statement he makes on the second page:

But here's another reason to stress: and that is that most of the pieces that were looted in Iraq pre-date Islam, pre-date the split between Sunni and Shia Muslims, pre-date Christianity, pre-date even Judaism.
I may be a bit biased, but I'm of the opinion that the archaeology of more recent periods is rather important, too.  I can see what he's trying to get at, but it still seemed like an odd thing to say. Then, yesterday, I saw this AP story.  I think I had heard about the story behind this before, but had forgotten it.  When I read this update, though, I did have to wonder if it was at all related to the statement that had surprised me in the first story.

Looting and Google Earth

It's been a few days since I started and forgot about this post, so this is somewhat old news, but I'm posting it anyway.I didn't notice when it went up a few days ago, but Heather Pringle has a news story in Science (via) which includes a bit about using Google Earth to map looting activities in Jordan (the parts about mapping Guantanamo Bay are also a good read, of course).I thought this all sounded very familiar, and sure enough, I've had the paper from the Journal of Field Archaeology that she cites (Contreras and Brodie 2010) in my Papers library for a few months now, but hadn't gotten around to reading it. So I read it, and actually it's pretty neat. The authors used data from the DAAHL to identify cemetery sites, and then monitored looting activities using the "Historical Imagery" feature in Google Earth. The idea of using time-series imagery to monitor looting isn't really new in itself, of course. Politis (2002) discussed much the same thing, but using aerial photographs instead, at Ghor as-Safi. Google Earth makes this relatively easy, though, especially because the historical imagery is already there. This is a type of project that's been on my mind recently, so it's nice to see that there's some interest in doing this sort of work.References:

2010     Contreras, Daniel A., and Neil BrodieThe Utility of Publicly-Available Satellite Imagery for Investigating Looting ofArchaeological Sites in Jordan. Journal of Field Archaeology 35(1):101-114.
2002     Politis, Konstantinos D.Dealing with the dealers and tomb robbers: the realities of the archaeologyof the Ghor es-Safi in Jordan. In Illicit Antiquities: The theft of culture and theextinction of archaeology. N. Brodie and K.W. Tubb, eds. Pp. 257-267. NewYork: Routledge.
2010     Pringle, HeatherGoogle Earth Shows Clandestine Worlds. Science 329(5995):1008-1009.DOI: 10.1126/science.329.5995.1008