Satellite Imagery Reveals Spikes in Egyptian Looting

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February 21, 2016

Space-age technology has identified an increase in looting at Egypt’s archaeological sites.

A group of scientists led by Sarah Parcak, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, has pored over satellite images for more than 1,000 sites in the Nile Valley and Nile Delta, for more than a decade. And the scientists have found intermittent increases in looting that match periods of unrest in the country as a whole.

The team began examining the scans in 2002. Examinations ran through 2013. The team found evidence of an increase in looting in 2009 2010, in the wake of the global financial crisis, and in 2011 and 2012, that corresponded to the Arab Spring, the revolution that toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.

Evidence to support these claims came in the form of looting pits identified on satellite images, as either increasing in size or appearing where none had been before. Looking at satellite images, the archaeologists found 3,427 visible pits in 2008, 15,889 looting pits in 2009, and 18,634 in 2010.

During the Arab Spring, when more governmental authority was nominally in the hands of the Egyptian people, looting skyrocketed, peaking at 38,000 looting pits observed in 2011.

The archaeologists visited some sites on foot, in order to confirm what the satellite images suggested. They found a great many pits, some not long abandoned. Some pits were up to 30 feet deep.

The report appears in the February issue of the journal Antiquity.

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