As a pretty carefree kid growing up in the southeast, I enjoyed the pleasure of many a fun and informative field trip. Those were the best days, where sack lunches were prepared, there was no homework, and my friends and I all knew we would be out of the classroom. I suspect we weren’t quite aware of how much learning we were actually doing on those ‘fun’ days. Throughout the years, and sometimes even traveling many miles out of state on special trips, we visited many museums, and often those with priceless art. With sculptures perched on pedestals and fine oil paintings hung on perfectly white walls, it certainly never occurred to any of us that these pieces could be lost—and chances are, here in the US, they have not been. But in war-torn countries and those continually devastated by acts of terrorism, indeed there is the constant threat of loss, not only of life and homes, but also of cultural artifacts that are of great value to citizens, as well as the world in consideration to historical value.
Over time, we’ve seen attention being paid to this issue by numerous concerned museums such as Museum Mosul, turning to 3D technology, after having so many replicas deliberately destroyed by ISIS as well as concerned individuals such as Iranian media artist Morehshin Allahyari. Not only have they been working to recreate pieces in 3D print, but they have encouraged those who have photos of ruined artifacts to come forward with them.
It’s sad to see that such an issue is one that so many must be concerned with today, but the process is being further expanded and refined by organizations such as Curious Travellers. Headquartered in the UK, they do have a clear mission, and that is to protect heritage at risk, offering data mining and an infrastructure created through crowdsourcing as they provide ‘digital documentation’ of archaeological sites, monuments, and any other areas that fit the heritage at risk label.
“The project will initially highlight threatened or damaged sites in North Africa, including Cyrene in Libya, as well as those in Syria and the Middle East, but is open to heritage at risk around the world,” states the Curious Travellers team on their website.
Hopefully this trend of asking the public to help with recreating treasured works that have been destroyed will continue. Curious Travellers has created an expansive project for taking in both photographs and video materials from the internet, whether searching travel blogs or social media. With these images preserved forever in cyberspace, the hope is that they will be useful as they work to make 3D models. This includes accepting photos that you may have taken as a tourist of a body of work that has since been destroyed.
“We recognise that contextual data inclusive of images, landscapes, geotags, textual description, and even the sentiment of the users are important for reconstructing cultural heritage,” said Curious Travellers.
This project is receiving funding from the United Kingdom’s Arts & Humanities Research Council. Curious Travellers is made up of a multidisciplinary team, with lead members from the University of Bradford, the University of St Andrews, the University of Nottingham, MOSPA, and the University of Birmingham. They share that the name was inspired by a quote from Horace Walpole, the Earl of Orford, as he wrote in a letter to Sir Horace Mann in 1774:
“At last some curious traveller from Lima will visit England, and give a description of the ruins of St Paul’s, like the editions of Balbec and Palmyra.”
And notably, Palmyra has been the subject of terrible destruction by ISIS after surviving for two millennia. When you consider all that happened around Palmyra’s Temple of Bel throughout that amount of time, and then ISIS came in and wrought havoc in one fell swoop, it seems unfathomable. How could something survive so long, through disaster and war, yet ISIS was the one to senselessly destroy such history? The archway was recreated in 3D print, now offered as a symbol so that around the world we don’t forget what these terrorists were able to wipe away so quickly.
For more information on what areas are considered to be at risk for loss of cultural heritage, see the map provided by Curious Travellers. You can also experience the visualization of heritage as you check out their 3D Gallery, with examples from Bradford Visualization created in Sketchfab such as a relief of Tiglath Pileser III of Assyria, an ancient column base, and a door detail from St. James, Avebury.
“The context and visual impact of this project will enable us to connect with global audiences and in doing so heighten awareness of the plight faced by threatened heritage,” states Curious Travellers. “The importance of cultural heritage is summed up in a simple message at the entrance to the National Museum of Afghanistan…’A nation stays alive when its culture stays alive.’”