Satellite data exposes looting

December 17, 2018

More than 2,500 years ago, horse riding nomads expanded their cultural realm throughout the Eurasian steppe from Southern Siberia to Eastern Europe. These tribes had in common, that they buried their dead in large burial mounds often together with elaborate golden jewellery and weapons of superior craftsmanship. Most of the organic materials are lost forever, but objects made from metals survive the millennia. Often made from bronze and gold, these treasures attract looters. During the colonization of Siberia in the 18th century, looting even became a seasonal job when gangs of diggers, sometimes up to 300 strong, excavated burials from spring to autumn each year. To transport the metals more easily, the prehistoric artworks were often molten down right at the site where they had been found.

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 journal Heritage, 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.
-end-


University of Bern

Related Data Articles from Brightsurf:

Keep the data coming
A continuous data supply ensures data-intensive simulations can run at maximum speed.

Astronomers are bulging with data
For the first time, over 250 million stars in our galaxy's bulge have been surveyed in near-ultraviolet, optical, and near-infrared light, opening the door for astronomers to reexamine key questions about the Milky Way's formation and history.

Novel method for measuring spatial dependencies turns less data into more data
Researcher makes 'little data' act big through, the application of mathematical techniques normally used for time-series, to spatial processes.

Ups and downs in COVID-19 data may be caused by data reporting practices
As data accumulates on COVID-19 cases and deaths, researchers have observed patterns of peaks and valleys that repeat on a near-weekly basis.

Data centers use less energy than you think
Using the most detailed model to date of global data center energy use, researchers found that massive efficiency gains by data centers have kept energy use roughly flat over the past decade.

Storing data in music
Researchers at ETH Zurich have developed a technique for embedding data in music and transmitting it to a smartphone.

Life data economics: calling for new models to assess the value of human data
After the collapse of the blockchain bubble a number of research organisations are developing platforms to enable individual ownership of life data and establish the data valuation and pricing models.

Geoscience data group urges all scientific disciplines to make data open and accessible
Institutions, science funders, data repositories, publishers, researchers and scientific societies from all scientific disciplines must work together to ensure all scientific data are easy to find, access and use, according to a new commentary in Nature by members of the Enabling FAIR Data Steering Committee.

Democratizing data science
MIT researchers are hoping to advance the democratization of data science with a new tool for nonstatisticians that automatically generates models for analyzing raw data.

Getting the most out of atmospheric data analysis
An international team including researchers from Kanazawa University used a new approach to analyze an atmospheric data set spanning 18 years for the investigation of new-particle formation.

Read More: Data News and Data Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.