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An Update on the Looting of Archaeological Sites in Iraq

Elizabeth Stone is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Stony Brook University (USA). Her research explores the ways in which urban structures reflect underlying social, political, and economic organization. She currently directs archaeological fieldwork at the ancient city of Ur, and previously excavated at Mashkan-shapir, Iraq, and elsewhere in the region. For many years, she has worked closely with Iraqi antiquities officials on cultural heritage management and training, and directs a long-running research program to map looting and damage to archaeological sites in southern Iraq.

Southern Iraq suffered an onslaught of looting of archaeological sites following the first Gulf War and especially in the immediate aftermath of the US invasion. This paper uses recent high resolution satellite imagery taken by the Digital Globe Corporation to compare data on site looting collected based on imagery from 2003 to today. The high resolution of these images makes every looting hole clearly visible. These data show that while looting continues, it is at a significantly lower level than before, especially given the more than 20 years between the two sets of imagery. Some changes can be documented in both the location of the looting and the time periods and types of sites affected. Especially noteworthy is the decrease in looting at fourth millenium and Early Islamic sites.