Heritage Reconstructed research update


I want to reflect about what we have done in the research area since the beginning of the semester. I haven’t seen it yet in the webpage because we have our group meeting tomorrow, but I know that Ashley and Chris uploaded the first two VRs on our website, which is exciting. One of the discussions we had at the beginning of the semester aimed to define what criteria we would consider for searching and mostly for selecting what VRs will be included in our database. We knew that what is available is not a reason per se, and even if we wanted to include what is available, we needed to find a narrative that explains why this is a reason for including a VR in our database.

Our aim was to create a Virtual Reconstruction database of archeological sites or objects. Since this was still too broad, we decided to focus on archeological sites in peril due to environmental damages, armed conflict or war, lack of investment in its preservation, earthquakes and other natural disasters, pollution, and poaching. This delimitation of the scope of the sites that we include in our database is important because it gives our project a strong conceptual lens and a clear standpoint to engage our VR digital project with the VR projects already being developed by different individual and institutions: scholars in universities, people in the game industry, artists, start-ups, among others. The second discussion we had is whether we would focus on a country and region of the world, and whether we would focus on a particular historical period. We decided to leave these options open and it turn out to be a good decision, which will be explained below. The third discussion we had is whether we would include natural sites in danger, e.g., parks, besides archeological sites or objects in peril. We decided to include only VRs of archeological sites, that is, sites that required human intervention and creation, for example, architecture, art, and/or religious buildings. Once we defined these criteria, the purpose of our VR digital project became much clear for all of us, not only in a practical sense, but rather it gave us a better understanding of the project we wanted to create. We needed also a new name, which is: Heritage Reconstructed: Virtualizations of Sites in Peril.

We began by exploring UNESCO Word Heritage in danger list. The list includes 53 sites in danger and includes cultural (archeological) sites and natural sites. We only focused on archeological sites. We made a search of VRs available online country by country, using different key words to make the search. Having completed the search following the UNESCO’s list, we identified two patterns: one, there are not many VRs for the sites the UNESCO considers in danger. Second, the VRs available are about countries and archeological sites that come from the same geographical region and mostly are in danger, or were destroyed, by war and terrorist groups, e.g., Irak, Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan.

We also included VRs sites that randomly appeared in our search thanks to the work of a wise algorithm. We found VRs that are publicly available, but also VRs that were created by the game industry; by start-ups, such as ICONEM, which dedicates to the digitization of endangered cultural heritage sites; Rekrei, a crowdsourced project, which also creates 3D representations of sites in danger; and CyArc-ICOMOS-Google created five VRs of sites taken from UNESCO list, which are mostly in danger due to climate change. We still have to figure out whether we will be able to upload the VRs these organizations have in their sites in our digital project or we will have to include just the link.

As noted previously, Ashley and Chris uploaded two VRs in our website. The following task for us is to review the VRs we have collected and decide which ones we will include, and contact the organizations I mentioned before, which have many VRs on archeological sites in peril, and ask them whether they allow us to upload their VRs in our website.