London, March 3 : New images obtained from a commercial satellite imaging company have revealed the extent of harm to archaeological sites in southern Iraq after the country's invasion by the US and its allies in March 2003.
The images were captured by Digital Globe Corporation (DGC) and examined by archaeologist Elizabeth Stone at Stony Brook University in New York.
Modern-day Iraq contains relics from some of the world's oldest cities and is often referred to as the "cradle of civilisation".
According to a report in New Scientist, many of Iraq's cultural treasures were looted after the US and its allies stepped in the country in 2003.
Anecdotal reports and helicopter flyovers suggested the looting of artifacts has been widespread.
After examining almost 10,000 square kilometres of imagery, containing some 1900 archaeological sites, Stone was able to reveal the extent of damage to the country's archaeological treasures.
By scrutinising the darkness and sharpness of shadows, she was able to identify holes made by looters and whether they were pre-existing or new. In this way she was able to assess the severity of looting before and after the Gulf War.
According to Stone, 15.75 square kilometers of land have been intensively looted, including 213 archaeological sites.
This is an area many times greater than all the archeological excavations undertaken in southern Iraq.
Stone's estimation also revealed that hundreds of thousands of tablets, coins, cylinder seals, statues, terracottas, bronzes and other objects have been stolen till now.