The New Monument Men Outsmart ISIS

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tags: ISIS, ISIL, Ancient Artifacts, Cultural Heritage Sites



The destruction and exploitation of art and architecture has parallels to what occurred during World War II, and it would be criminal for the world to stand aside and let it go on unchallenged. Yet, unlike much of the artwork rescued during World War II, the endangered architecture in the Middle East can’t be carted away to safety. But as the obstacles of preservation have evolved, so has the ability to address new situations. That’s why a team from the Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA) is turning to the next best option—using technology to protect cultural heritage.

Founded in 2012 by Roger Michel, IDA is a joint effort between Harvard University and Oxford University to create an open-source database of high-resolution images and three-dimensional graphics of things like paper and papyrus documents, epigraphs and small artifacts. The work began in the lab and eventually moved into the field, where project participants began to digitally document ancient architecture with the thinking that they could help to ensure the legacy of these sites would be protected from things like environmental disasters and aging foundations. They didn’t expect to be battling ISIS.

Work on what IDA has named the Million Image Database began in early 2015. In order to quickly create photographic equipment unique to this project, a technology team, led by magnetician Alexy Karenowska, was assembled at Oxford to develop a low-cost, easy-to-use 3-D camera. They took an off-the-shelf model and heavily modified it, adding features like macro mode (which enables focusing on close-range objects), the use of file formats that could store anaglyph information—different-colored layers of a photograph superimposed to create a stereoscopic three-dimensional effect—and automated GPS stamping.




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