Use Google Earth to prevent looting?

Archaeology Magazine recently wrote an interesting post about the the vast looting of Iraq’s archaeological sites. It’s a sad tale, with many of historical sites being simply destroyed by looters.


Elizabeth Stone, an archaeologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, has made extensive use of satellite imagery to determine the extent of the looting. Her work (and a subsequent speech at Stanford University) gained the interest of Daniel Contreras. He couldn’t afford to purchase expensive satellite imagery, but soon found that Google Earth imagery did the job. He started by studying looting in Peru, à la Stone, and published the results in a recent issue of Antiquity.
This led Heather Pringle, the Archaeology Magazine article author, to ask Daniel a question:

I asked him whether this might be the beginning of a much larger project, one that enlists the sharp eyes of the Google Earth community and anyone else with an interest in archaeology to keep an eye on the world’s looting hotspots. Could archaeologists crowdsource the monitoring of the our collective archaeological heritage?

His answer:

“Definitely. The technology is all there, it’s just a question of how to administer it. And I think this would make people a little more aware of the problem of looting, as well as providing a tangible source of documentation for archaeologists.”

While this won’t directly help prevent looting while it’s happening (Google Earth imagery isn’t fresh enough), it could help highlight areas that have been recently looted and (as Heather said in the comments to her own article), “it gives archaeologists the necessary data they need to lobby hard for policy and legislative changes needed to crack down on looting.”
(via Ogle Earth)

About Mickey Mellen

Mickey has been using Google Earth since it was released in 2005, and has created a variety of geo-related sites including Google Earth Hacks. He runs a web design firm in Marietta, GA, where he lives with his wife and two kids.


  1. Nice article and I look forward to the eyes of the crowd analysing open access data.
    I have one issue: the statement that “Google Earth imagery did the job” is a bit too glib. It doesn’t do “the job” in all situations. There is a growing belief in archaeological circles that google earth and google maps will solve the archaeological detection problem. This is patently untrue. There is a large amount of quantifiable data, and therefore information, that is lost between the source image that Google receive and the processed image that Google Earth serves. It’s a subtle but very important distinction. I talk about it in an Antiquity article:
    In addition different types of archaeology are revealed under different conditions. The science underpinning the dynamics is poorly understood. A UK project, DART, is applying a number of different research methods to improve this baseline understanding: . The point here is that a single image will rarely, if ever, provide the right conditions under which the full complement of archaeological residues can be detected.
    Google could consider adding bespoke, science led, imagery to address specific issues in different regions. That said the archive of available imagery is increasing. The opportunity for people to re-use the imagery in new and interesting ways is a powerful thing.

  2. Use Google Earth to stop the Gulf Oil Spill

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