Nasser Nasser / AP
This file photo shows Seif al-Islam Gadhafi at a ceremony of the declaration of a sustainable environmental region at the ancient city of Cyrene near the city of al-Bayda, northeastern Libya Sept. 10, 2007.The site is one of five World Heritage Sites in the country.
Though reportedly safe for now, as the tension escalates in Libya, the fate of the country's archaeological heritage is increasingly uncertain, experts say. Meanwhile, in Egypt, threats to national treasures may resurface, after a pause.
The last of the foreign archaeologists working in Libya were evacuated Feb. 26, according to Nature News. The 11 archaeologists with the Italian-Libyan Archaeological Mission in the Acacus and Messak are studying ancient archaeology and rock art in the country.
Savino di Lernia, head of the team, relayed a message from Salah Agab, chairman of the Libyan Department of Antiquities, that currently the situation was under control and all museums and archaeological sites are safe.
But archaeologists fear the chaos and risk of looting poses a threat to the country's ancient archaeological sites, as they have in the recent uprisings in nearby countries such as Egypt.
Security is described as "good" at the Libya's five World Heritage sites, including the Roman ruins of Leptis Magna, a prominent coastal city of the Roman Empire about 80 miles east of Tripoli that is renowned for its public monuments, harbour, market-place, storehouses, shops and residential districts.
Other World Heritage sites include the ancient Greek archaeological sites of Cyrene; the Phoenician port of Sabratha; the rock-art sites of the Acacus Mountains in the Sahara Desert; and the old town of Ghadamès, an oasis city that has been home to Romans, Berbers and the Byzantine civilization.
The situation could be "problematic" elsewhere, di Lernia told Nature News.
The capital city, Tripoli, remains tightly controlled by Gadhafi's heavily armed forces, who this week launched counterattacks against nearby cities controlled by protesters. Despite the security presence, important sites in this northwestern region, such as Sabratha, are "really endangered."
A report from Reuters paints a similar picture of concern about the country's cultural heritage:
"So far there are no records whatsoever of any areas from the cultural heritage of Libya being affected by the troubles," said Hafed Walda, a Libyan who advises the country's department of antiquities and once led an excavation at Leptis Magna.
"We're always worried about this in terms of chaos. It's going in the right direction so far but I'm not sure it will carry on like this. I don't know," he said from his London base.
Meanwhile, Zahi Hawass, Egypt's antiquities chief who became a cabinet member this January, posted on his blog a list of some two dozen sites that were looted or vandalized since the uprising that led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak.
"Our antiquities are in grave danger from criminals trying to take advantage of the current situation," he writes.
Among the looted and vandalized sites were the storerooms for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's excavation site in Dahshur, south of Cairo, as well as the looting of the tomb of Impy near the Great Sphinx at Giza.
Hawass told the New York Times on Thursday that, for political reasons, he would not accept a post in the new Egyptian government to be formed by Essam Sharaf following the resignation of prime minister Ahmed Shafiq.
The depature of Hawass could lead to even more looting, Karl von Habsburg, president of Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield, a body that tries to protect cultural heritage in conflict zones, told the paper.
"I am terrified by the idea that [Zawass's departure] might be a sign to potential looters that now that last element of control is gone, and now we have a free hand to continue looting," he said.
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).