When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, goes the old saw. But when you are an archeologist and life gives you looters, often all you can do is make lamentations. Looting afflicts archaeological sites worldwide, from the wide-spread plundering of ancient Sumerian sites in Iraq, to pot-hunters in the American Southwest, to the looting of Inca and other sites in the Peruvian Andes.
However, a few archaeologists have figured out a way to put the looters to work for them, as archaeologist Lisa Lucero of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces demonstrated in a recent talk about her team's study of the ancient Maya ceremonial center at Yalbac in Belize.
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Belize antiquities officials want more information about the archaeological site, but also want as few excavations as possible to limit damage at Yalbac. "So I only have looter's trenches, and I'd rather stick with that than destroy more temples," Lucero says. Making the best of the situation, her team has catalogued the structure and building of the marred temples using the looter's diggings.
It's a pretty good article describing what they've found. I suppose in a way these looter trenches are similar to digging a trench with a backhoe on a new site to determine what the stratigraphy looks like.