2008 Archaeological Sites Under Threat

Posted on December 16, 2008


Along with their top ten discoveries of 2008, Archaeology Magazine has put out a list of sites and cities that are under particular threat of destruction or decay.


Near the village of Sabu, in the northern Sudanese Nile Valley, hundreds of rock-art panels dating as far back as the Neolithic period will be inundated by the Kajbar Dam, now being built downstream. No archaeologists have made a systematic study of Sabu, meaning its depictions of giraffes, New Kingdom ships, and Christian churches will be lost forever.


Like its neighbors, Bulgaria is rich in archaeological remains—ancient Greek, Thracian, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman. But rather than draw millions of visitors each year to its ancient sites, this poor Balkan country mainly exports its cultural heritage. The transition from Communism to a free market economy has left Bulgaria exposed to the swirling forces of the global illicit antiquities trade. Desperate poverty means huge numbers of Bulgarians—up to 4 percent of the entire population—are involved in the trade.

Nine Mile Canyon

More than 10,000 prehistoric images of hunting scenes, bighorn sheep, and abstract designs adorn the cliffs of Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon. Created by the Fremont people, who lived in the region from A.D. 300 to 1300, the images have been under threat since natural gas deposits were discovered nearby in 2004. Thick clouds of dust raised by energy-related trucking in the canyon adheres to the images, obscuring them and causing long-term damage.


Mohenjo-daro in Pakistan was one of the largest cities of the Indus Valley civilization, which thrived between 2600 and 1900 B.C. Today, the square-mile mud-brick city is threatened by high groundwater and salt deposits that are destroying the site’s ancient bricks.


Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, looting has resulted in the industrial-scale destruction of some of the world’s first cities. One of the most important is Isin, the capital of southern Mesopotamia beginning in 1953 B.C. For roughly 100 years Isin ruled important cites such as Ur, Uruk, and Nippur. About 25 percent of the site has been looted.

Mirador Basin

Guatemala’s north-central Petén region contains the largest concentration of Preclassic Maya cities in Mesoamerica and features the grandest architecture in the Maya world. But the sites are threatened by massive deforestation, looting, and destruction caused by equipment used in logging road construction, which itself facilitates intrusive settlements.

Each one of these sites could be better protected by appropriate legislation or the enforcement of existing legislation.

For the original text, please see Archaeology Magazine’s Under Threat.

For more information on Nine Mile Canyon, the only site in a country that does not have the excuse of limited resources to regulate, please see the Preservation Nation page on Nine Mile Canyon.

[UPDATE: Nathan Elkins has posted, “Archaeology Magazine’s Under Threat List Includes Bulgaria,” in which he discusses the heritage crisis in the region, particularly the threat to ancient coins.]

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