Preserving History with 3D Technology

In 2015, the world looked in horror at the impending doom that Palmyra seemed certain to face as ISIS approached. ISIS marched on and destroyed centuries of cultural legacies in the ancient city.

ISIS may have destroyed precious monuments in Palmyra, but the civilized world rose with a passionate defiance at the desecrators of the world’s heritage. In Trafalgar Square, humanity can now view a 3D-printed reproduction of the Triumphal Arch of the Temple of Bel, one of the monuments vandalized by ISIS.

While ISIS was approaching Palmyra, the Institute of Digital Archeology, in partnership with UNESCO, had circulated 3D cameras to volunteers in Palmyra. These faithful volunteers took pictures of the precious sites in Palmyra which enabled the reproduction of the Triumphal Arch replica.

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Triumphal Arch of the Temple of Bel after destruction by ISIS

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London Mayor Boris Johnson in front of the replica in April 2016.

Image source: the guardian

For many decades, museums have served as the preservers of historical sites and artifacts, sometimes miniaturized to fit into the confined space of a museum’s halls. However, even with the most faithful preservation techniques, some form of deterioration is inevitable. 3D technology is now an ally in the preservation of the world’s important places and stories. Before now, software such as Microsoft Encarta already offered virtual tours of historical places such as the Colosseum. Now, 3D technology is being extended to preserve historical stories along with the places where they occurred.

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The Annaberg Sugar Plantation. Image source: Engineering.com

CyArk and Trimble are leading an ongoing mapping project aimed at using 3D technology to document historical sites linked with the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Using 3D point clouds generated by laser scanning and ancillary technologies, the project aims to build digital models of ten cultural sites spanning Western Africa and the Americas, important routes for the horrific slave trade. The endgame is to provide the created models in online libraries for public access. With such digital preservation, in centuries to come, the stories of the past would still be ever present. Using interactive maps, enthusiasts would view data about the slave trade, accompanied by virtual 3D tours of the linked sites.

These 3D-powered preservation projects provide hope for the preservation of cultural legacies across Africa and the world. Africa has 135 world heritage sites spread across 37 countries in the continent. Whereas most of these legacy sites are deemed safe from harm, about 17 sites are presently considered endangered. With 3D technology, just like Palmyra, African cultural legacies can be preserved for future generations to enjoy the ever luxurious beauty of African culture.

Written by Jonah Ibiamagabara

Source: The Guardian, Engineering.com

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