Preserving our historical heritage is an ongoing battle against environmental factors and human actions that pose constant threats. It is essential that governments prioritize its maintenance, particularly during times of war when devastating conflicts ravage precious sites. Fortunately, modern technology offers us the means to safeguard our heritage for future generations. How can this challenge be met?
Historical and cultural heritage encompasses the valuable assets accumulated throughout history within a region. Whether tangible or intangible, they form an integral part of our civilization and the unique heritage of each nation. Notably, they hold significant economic potential by attracting tourism. Telefonica emphasizes that this heritage represents a legacy from the past, living in the present, and entrusted to future generations. Consequently, it demands substantial efforts in maintenance, conservation, and enhanced management. Leveraging the power of new technologies becomes crucial, especially when these precious treasures become targets of terrorists or during times of armed conflict. By utilizing innovative solutions, we can effectively protect the memory and significance of these irreplaceable cultural artifacts.
Technology to Curb the Destruction Strategy
The destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan over two decades ago sent shockwaves throughout the world, marking a tragic turning point. Subsequently, attacks on irreplaceable cultural artifacts became distressingly frequent, serving as tools in strategic propaganda known as “mass broadcast terrorism.” The heartbreaking news of shrines demolished in Fallujah, Iraq, the assault on the Arch of Triumph in Palmyra, Syria, and the bombing of the Balili Mosque in Yemen, among other incidents, further underscore the profound loss we continue to witness.
In times of war, destruction becomes a distressing constant, indiscriminately targeting both modern and ancient structures, whether utilitarian or artistic, reducing them to ruins each day. Additionally, the gradual erosion caused by time, climate, and environmental factors adds to this loss. It is imperative for governments to proactively establish preventive policies and harness technology to safeguard the historical and cultural heritage that serves as a testament to the history of each nation. By doing so, we can preserve and protect the invaluable legacy that defines us.
UNESCO has been working on this approach for several decades, particularly since the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. This international organisation believes that no progress is sustainable without the cultural roots of the past and that preserving historical heritage is essential to achieving this.
How Can Technology Be Used to Preserve Historical Heritage?
The advancement of certain technologies has emerged as a formidable weapon in the battle against the vanishing cultural heritage of a region. To combat this threat, it is crucial to support and foster innovative initiatives in this field, recognizing that innovation plays a pivotal role in this endeavor.
Among these technologies, Virtual Reality (VR) stands out prominently. VR enables the creation of interactive digital models of buildings, monuments, and other heritage artifacts. Through VR devices, users can explore these models and immerse themselves in a virtual historic environment, making it particularly valuable in the field of education, where it has garnered significant acclaim.
To construct these virtual models, laser scanners are often employed to meticulously capture three-dimensional digital replicas of well-preserved buildings, monuments, and other heritage objects. These accurate models serve multiple purposes, including documentation of the current state of these artifacts and aiding in the planning of restoration or conservation efforts.
Drones are also widely used to support the work of archaeologists, conservators and other professionals involved in the preservation of these unique pieces. These devices capture aerial images of monuments and archaeological sites, which are then processed to create 3D models and topographic maps that help scientists better understand the site environment and the spatial distribution of artifacts.
There are also monitoring systems and sensors that measure and record environmental factors that can affect the conservation of heritage assets, such as humidity, temperature, air quality and others.
Backup Ukraine, a Technological Breath of Hope
The collaboration between the Danish National Commission for UNESCO and Blue Shield Denmark, a non-profit organization, has opened up a new avenue for action. What does it involve? It is a 3D scanning technology called Polycam that is used from an enabled mobile device to document the selected scenarios in three dimensions.
The system uploads this digital information to the cloud, facilitating its global distribution, thereby preserving its enjoyment and the cultural identity it represents. It also has another, equally interesting consequence: to serve as a guide and reference for the subsequent reconstruction of the treasures of the devastated countries.
In Ukraine, a remarkable initiative called Backup Ukraine has harnessed this system to digitally document every building, monument, shelter, and significant location with unparalleled precision. Through this campaign, these records are securely stored in the cloud, ensuring their preservation for as long as they exist. The marriage of cutting-edge technological advancements and novel solutions rises to the challenge of heritage conservation, offering indispensable tools to archaeologists, conservators, and other dedicated professionals engaged in safeguarding our historical heritage. Together, they shape a promising future for the preservation of our shared history.