Michael J. Price Lab for Digital Humanities

Emily Hammer (University of Pennsylvania)

Emily Hammer (University of Pennsylvania)

Data Visualization Challenges in Satellite Imagery-based Cultural Heritage Projects and the Heritage Crisis in Afghanistan

Analysis of spatial and temporal patterns in looting and destruction at archaeological sites using satellite imagery has become a focus of multiple research groups working on cultural heritage in conflict zones, especially in areas controlled by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. In this lunch seminar, I discuss how satellite imagery-based cultural heritage projects collect visual data, analyze these data for patterns, and present these data in visually informative ways that support an argument while also showing the many limitations inherent in such datasets. I draw on my experience using satellite imagery methodologies to investigate recent looting and destruction at archaeological sites in Afghanistan, where Taliban-related heritage destruction events have also frequently made international headlines. A team I previously led at the University of Chicago used various forms of geospatial data to quantitatively document spatial and temporal patterns in looting and destruction from looting, agricultural activity, military occupation, urban growth, mining, and other kinds of development at over 1000 previously known archaeological sites across Afghanistan. The predominant public narrative about the heritage crisis in Afghanistan holds that looting and destruction specifically by extremist groups is currently the most pressing threat to archaeological sites. Our analysis indicates that this narrative requires substantial revision and shows that the heritage situation in Afghanistan both parallels and contrasts with that seen in the post-Arab-Spring Middle East.


Emily Hammer is an archaeologist and Assistant Professor in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department. Her research applies spatial analyses to material culture to investigate the territorial organization of ancient polities, the development of early cities, and long-term changes in the interactions between culture and environment in the Middle East and South Caucasia. She uses geographic information science (GIS) methods, archaeology, and archival research as tools for recovering human experiences that have otherwise been sidelined in narratives about the past, particularly the experiences of mobile pastoralists and other communities that lived in agriculturally marginal environments such as deserts and highlands.

October 23, 2017
12:00-2:00pm
Classroom 3, Penn Museum

2017-18 Mellon Seminar Series