Association Affairs

Tools to help save a culture

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Science  18 Dec 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6267, pp. 1486
DOI: 10.1126/science.350.6267.1486

A 3D reconstruction of the Iraqi Nirgul Tablet. The original artifact was destroyed by ISIS.


Satellite and drone imagery—The AAAS Geospatial Technologies Project has produced several lengthy reports documenting damage or destruction at important cultural heritage sites in Syria and Iraq, showing the scope of the problem and confirming reports from sources on the ground. The project is exploring the possibility of using aerial drones to get an even closer look at looting and other threats to critical sites. Drones have been used by other specialists in a “Follow the Pots” project to monitor looting at an Early Bronze Age cemetery in Fifa, Jordan.

Time-series analyses—By analyzing multiple satellite images over time, researchers can spot physical changes in the historic structures of interest and also detect the arrival of trucks and bulldozers that could be a warning of imminent destruction to come. The method has been used to document the status and subsequent destruction of sites such as the tombs of Uwais al-Qarani, Obay ibn Qays, and Ammar ibn Yasir in the Raqqa neighborhood where Hanson lived. Time-series analysis also has been used to document the destruction of Armenian cultural artifacts in Azerbaijan between 1998 and 2005, Hanson said.

High-resolution scans—Specialists have been creating 3D reproductions of endangered, damaged, or destroyed artifacts. One effort, called Project Mosul, is collecting imagery of materials in the Mosul Museum that were destroyed by ISIS fighters in February. These cyber archaeologists are using file photographs and even videos and pictures taken by tourists to digitally reconstruct lost objects. The Mosul team also has been collecting images of historic buildings destroyed by a devastating earthquake in Nepal in April in hopes of helping to rebuild the Durbar Square area of Kathmandu.

Archival documentation—The German Archaeological Institute and the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin have undertaken a joint effort to digitize paper records of numerous research projects conducted in Syria over the years under the auspices of the Syrian Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums. Such documentation is essential to protect important archival data and to help experts better evaluate the current status of Syria's imperiled cultural heritage.

AAAS 2016 Annual Meeting



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