A Jailed Activist’s 3-D Models Could Save Syria’s History From ISIS

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tags: ISIS, ISIL, Ancient Artifacts



When Bassel Khartabil first began creating photographic three-dimensional models of the ancient ruins known as Palmyra, he hoped to preserve one of Syria’s greatest archaeological treasures. Ten years later, Khartabil is a prisoner of Syria’s fascist Assad regime, and Palmyra is being systematically destroyed by ISIS. Now Khartabil’s friends and fellow activists hope his 3-D models might save not only Palmyra, but Khartabil himself.

On Wednesday, a group of online activists, archivists, and archaeologists plan to release the first batch of files from the New Palmyra Project, an online collection of reconstructed 3-D models of the 1st century AD city originally based on photographs taken by Khartabil in a series of trips he took to the site starting in 2005. The group says its models, created with the Autodesk software Maya, can be used for online visualizations, Oculus-style walkthroughs, or even 3-D printing miniature replicas. It’s also inviting anyone who has more data from the Palmyra site to upload it to the group’s crowdsourced repository, the better to create the world’s most detailed digital reconstruction of the ancient oasis city.

Their release comes as both Palmyra and Khartabil face serious threats from opposite sides of the Syrian civil war. Khartabil, a Palestinian-Syrian blogger, coder, Wikipedia contributor, and founder of the Damascus hackerspace Aiki Lab, was arrested without explanation on the streets of Syria’s capital and jailed in early 2012. After nine months, moved to the corrupt and overcrowded Adra prison near Damascus, still without formal charges against him made public. Nearly three years later, he remains a captive of the Syrian regime and supporters believe he has yet to even see a judge.




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