TerraWatchers, Crowdsourcing, and At-Risk World Heritage in the Middle East

  • Stephen H. SavageEmail author
  • Andrew Johnson
  • Thomas E. Levy
Part of the Quantitative Methods in the Humanities and Social Sciences book series (QMHSS)


Cultural resources, like natural resources, are finite. Every country has cultural resources that reflect local history and prehistory and are vital both economically for tourism and socially as a foundation of cultural identity. This material cultural record is part of world heritage, something recognized by UNESCO since 1972 ( As archaeological and historical sites occur in relatively restricted areas, they are a limited resource that should be cared for, curated, and preserved for local, national, and international communities. Like natural resources, cultural resources are sensitive to human and natural intervention. Unfortunately, over the past 4 years, more than any other region on the planet, archaeological heritage sites in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East have suffered destruction at an alarming rate. Political instability, war, extreme ideologies, economic downturns, and other factors have led to the wanton destruction of heritage sites. As part of the University of California Office of the President Catalyst Grant project “At-Risk Cultural Heritage and the Digital Humanities,” the TerraWatchers Crowdsourcing platform is being used to involve citizen scientists in monitoring archaeological site destruction in war-torn Syria and Iraq using satellite imagery. This chapter presents an overview of TerraWatchers, how it relies on the expertise of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) Cultural Heritage Initiatives to identify at-risk sites in the region, and how university students in a classroom setting were trained to participate in this digital cultural heritage experiment.


Crowdsourcing Middle East Remote sensing looting GIS 



The research presented in this chapter was funded by a UC Office of the President Catalyst grant (CA-16-376911) that was awarded to T.E. Levy in 2015. We are grateful to the UC San Diego Geisel Library, Catherine Friedman and Scott Mcavoy for providing instructional lab space for the project, and ASOR’s Michael D. Danti and Susan Penacho for providing more than 10,000 at-risk site locations in Syria and Iraq for inclusion in this study. We appreciate the administrative help of Margie Burton from the UC San Diego Center for Cyber-Archaeology and Sustainability.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen H. Savage
    • 1
    Email author
  • Andrew Johnson
    • 1
  • Thomas E. Levy
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Anthropology, Center for Cyber-Archaeology & Sustainability, Qualcomm InstituteUniversity of CaliforniaSan DiegoUSA

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