An armchair archaeologist has identified nearly 2,000 potentially important sites in Saudi Arabia by using Google Earth and without visiting the country.
David Kennedy, a professor of classics and ancient history at the University of Western Australia, used the satellite maps to pinpoint 1,977 potential archaeological sites, including 1,082 teardrop-shaped stone tombs.
Dr Kennedy told New Scientist magazine that he had verified that the images showed archaeological sites by asking a friend working in Saudi Arabia to photograph the locations.
Aerial and satellite imaging has been used in Britain to locate Iron Age and Roman sites as well as Nazca lines in Peru and Mayan ruins in Belize.
Few archaeologists have been given access to Saudi Arabia because of fears that focusing attention on civilisations which flourished before the rise of Islam could undermine the state religion.
In 1994, a council of Saudi clerics was reported to have issued an edict that preserving historical sites "could lead to polytheism and idolatry" - both punishable by death.
Saudi Arabia's rulers have, in recent years, allowed archaeologists to excavate some sites, including the spectacular but little-known ruins of Maidan Saleh, a 2,000-year-old city, but access to ancient sites has remained severely restricted.
As the crisis in Egypt continues, experts have expressed concern that the country’s priceless archaeological heritage could come under threat from vandals and looters, who have already stolen some of the country’s precious antiquities.Dr Bob Brier, an Egyptologist, told CNN the country was a “vast outdoor museum” and that the great monuments were definitely at risk.Meanwhile, a Reuters report says museums around the world are on “high alert” for artefacts recently stolen from Egyptian museums and archaeological digs after looters broke into the Egyptian museum in Cairo last week. A statement by London’s Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology said:"All of us who are friends of Egypt can help the efforts to stop looting of archaeological sites, stores and museums, by focusing on the international antiquities trade."The call was echoed by the British Museum, home of the famed Rosetta Stone, an inscription in Egyptian and Greek writing which allowed linguists to decode Egyptian hieroglyphs. The Museum said:"It is a matter of the greatest concern that these irreplaceable objects should be fully protected to ensure their safety and survival for future generations."The country's new Antiquities Minister, the well-known former Antiquites Council leader, Dr Zahi Hawass, had good news, according to Past Horizons:“I would like to tell the people, all over the world, the good news: the storage magazine that was looted in Qantara, in the Sinai, has had 288 objects returned! I cannot say exactly how many objects were lost, but it seems that the majority of what was stolen has been returned.”Hawass, known for his tough stand on the return of Egyptian antiquities, went on to say:“The commanders of the army are now protecting the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, and all of the major sites of Egypt (Luxor, Aswan, Saqqara, and the pyramids of Giza) are safe. The twenty-four museums in Egypt, including the Coptic and Islamic museums in Cairo, are all safe, as well. I would like to say that I am very happy to see that the Egyptian people, young and old, stood as one person against the escaped prisoners to protect monuments all over the country. The monuments are safe because of both the army and the ordinary people.”