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A New Weapon in the Fight Against ISIS’ Archeological Destruction: 3D Cameras

The Million Image Database Project wants to give citizen photographers around the world the power to digitally preserve their national treasures.

image via wikimedia commons

Researchers, historians, and archeologists have come up with a unique plan to help save a number of the priceless antiquities at risk for destruction at the hands of looters and militants, such as what’s been seen recently by members of the Islamic State. Actually, “save” isn’t quite the right word to use–“preserve” is a much more accurate term to describe what these experts have in mind: The digital, rather than physical preservation of threatened and at-risk pieces of art and architecture.


Called the “Million Image Database Project,” the initiative comes from a team comprised of experts from Oxford, Harvard, New York University and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. At its center is an inexpensive, consumer-available 3D camera (albeit one which the project has heavily modified) which can be distributed to ordinary citizens around the world, and used to snap “archival quality scans” of buildings and objects for which traditional preservation isn’t an option.

On their website, the project explains:

It is our intention to deploy up to five-thousand of these low-cost 3D cameras in conflict zones throughout the world by the end of 2015. Each camera contains an automated tutorial package that will help field users – local museum affiliates, imbedded military, NGO employees and volunteers – both to identify appropriate subject matters and to capture useable images.

image via wikimedia commons

Given the recent destruction of the Syria’s Temple of Baalshamin at the hands of Islamic State militants, the Million Image Database Project’s mission of digital preservation has become all the more urgent. To that end, the group has reportedly distributed 3D cameras to photographers on the ground in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Turkey, and Yemen. The goal, they explain, is to collect one million digital images by the end of 2016. What’s more, they hope that the initiative, should it prove successful, will be used as a basis for future, expanded efforts along the same lines. With that in mind, both the technology and software used in the Million Image Database Project will be open source.

Roger Michel, director for the Institute for Digital Archeology, the Oxford-based organization hosting the initiative, spoke with Britain’s The Times, saying: “By placing the record of our past in the digital realm, it will lie for ever beyond the reach of vandals and terrorists.” In another interview, this time with the BBC, he explained: “This is a race against time. We’ve changed our timetable in recognition of the places being destroyed.”

The Million Image Database Project is just one of many ways preservationists are looking into stemming the tide of archeological destruction and profiteering by ISIS militants. “Project Mosul,” a somewhat similar initiative, uses 2D photographs to reconstruct 3D scans of the items in Iraq’s Mosul Museum, following looting by Islamic State members in early 2015.

[via curbed]

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