Applying high-resolution satellite imagery
It has become increasingly difficult to find unlooted tombs. The prices for archaeological objects from these burials, however, have seen a vast increase. Gino Caspari from the Institute of Archaeological Sciences at the University of Bern analyzed the condition of burials in a difficult-to-access region based on high-resolution satellite imagery. These data help to assess the degree of destruction inflicted upon the archaeological heritage. "We specifically chose an area of interest in Xinjiang, China. We assumed that, due to the remoteness and the heavy presence of security forces in the region, we would find a higher proportion of intact tombs," Caspari explains. However, this assumption proved to be wrong: "More than 74.5 percent of the analysed burials were already destroyed and plundered," says Caspari.
Archaeological sites severely threatened
Through conducting an on-ground survey, the researchers managed to show that high-resolution satellite imagery can provide an accurate measurement of the destruction at a particular site. Using time series of different datasets, looting can be effectively monitored. Caspari analysed data going back to 2003, and found out that since then the number of looted tombs increased substantially. "The last untouched archaeological sites of the ancient steppe nomads are under imminent threat," says Caspari.
The research, published in the journalHeritage, allows for a consequent monitoring of archaeological heritage in remote regions of Central Asia. When looting at a site is recognized in an early stage, measures for the protection of the tombs can be put in place.
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