Drone Offers Glimpse of Antiquities Looting in Jordan

Drone Offers Glimpse of Antiquities Looting in JordanDrone Offers Glimpse of Antiquities Looting in Jordan

At a sprawling Bronze Age cemetery in southern Jordan, archaeologists have developed a unique way of peering into the murky world of antiquities looting: With aerial photographs taken by a homemade drone, researchers are mapping exactly where - and roughly when - these ancient tombs were robbed.

Based on such images and conversations with some looters whose confidence they gained, archaeologists try to follow the trail of stolen pots and other artifacts to traders and buyers. They hope to get a better understanding of the black market and perhaps stop future plunder, AP reported on Friday.

It’s sophisticated detective work that stretches from the site, not far from the famed Dead Sea in Jordan, to collectors and buyers the world over.

The aerial photography detects spots where new looting has taken place at the 5,000-year-old Fifa graveyard, which can then sometimes be linked to Bronze Age pots turning up in shops of dealers, said Morag Kersel, an archaeologist at DePaul University in Chicago. Kersel, who heads the “Follow The Pots” project, also shares the data with Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, to combat looting.

The cemetery in Jordan’s Dead Sea plain contains about 10,000 graves, part of the vast archaeological heritage of the region.

It looks like a moonscape as a result of looting, with about 3,700 craters stretching to the horizon and strewn with shards of skeletons and broken ceramics. Looters typically leave human remains and take only well preserved artifacts.

An underlying cause for looting is high unemployment, said Muhammed al-Zahran, director of the nearby Dead Sea Museum. “Looting happens all across the region,” he said.