Thursday, 16 June 2016

Following the Pots Means Confronting the Myths of the Antiquities Trade

For the past three years, archaeologists led by DePaul University's Morag M. Kersel have used drones or UAVs to monitor looting at the Early Bronze Age site of Fifa on Jordan's Dead Sea Plain ('Drones Monitor Looted Bronze Age Sites in Jordan', February 16, 2016).
"Three seasons of monitoring at Fifa have demonstrated that UAVs can provide quantifiable evidence for the rate of ongoing site damage," said Kersel in a DePaul University press release. Their work shows that while looting at the site is ongoing, it is now continuing at a much reduced pace compared to when the project began. "An element of the ongoing research is the examination of why looting has abated," says Kersel. "Are there no more graves to loot? Have looters found more lucrative financial resources?" The team is now using ethnographic interviews with people in the area to understand why looting at the site may have slowed.
Here are two drone shots of one of these sites:

Oblique view of Fifa, showing extent of the looting holes (#FollowthePots)

Here we see that it would be little comfort even if the looting had stopped. Huge areas of the site have already been roughly stripped out, destroying any stratigraphy in random areas, hindering any future attempt to excavate the area properly. This is what lies behind all those complete pots, lamps and glass vessels we see being handled by dealers all over the world, each of which - they swear - is from an "old collection" brought to them by the Munich Antiquities Elves. It must be the Antiquities Pixies which are taking the looted stuff from the recently-dug holes riddling Jordanian sites and the ones in Egypt, Syria, Iraq etc. We need more light on the activities of these Pixies and Elves claimed by the dealers, expose their activities. Or, if we prove they do not exist, work out where the stuff is going... "follow the pots".

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