A team of digital-age “monuments men” will fightback against the Islamic State’s destruction of ancient sites by flooding the Middle East region with cameras and harnessing 3D printing technology to reconstruct the destroyed antiquities, according to a media report.
Archaeologists at Oxford and Harvard will flood the region with 3D cameras in a plan to create a full digital record of every threatened artefact.
If the treasures they photograph are destroyed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the academics will harness 3D printing technology to reconstruct them in the same style as the original antiquities, The Times reported.
The plan has come to light after the obliteration by ISIS of the 2,000-year-old temple of Baal Shamin in Palmyra in Syria this week, the latest action in the worst spate of archaeological destruction since the Second World War.
In a letter from the Oxford-based Institute for Digital Archaeology, which conceived the 2 million pounds project, the group said it aimed to “flood the Middle East with thousands of low-cost 3D cameras and enlist local partners to photograph as many items of historical significance as possible”.
The institute, working with the heritage body UNESCO, aims to gather five million images of antiquities, from sprawling Mesopotamian palaces to handfuls of coins and pottery, by the end of the year.
In a race against the bulldozers and sledgehammers of ISIS, it plans to compile 20 million pictures of objects before 2017.
“Palmyra is rapidly becoming the symbol of ISIS’ cultural iconoclasm,” Roger Michel, the institute’s director, was quoted as saying.
“If ISIS is permitted to wipe the slate clean and rewrite the history of a region that defined global aesthetic and political sensibilities, we will collectively suffer a costly and irreversible defeat. But there is hope. By placing the record of our past in the digital realm, it will lie for ever beyond the reach of vandals and terrorists,” he said.
Recent attacks on holy sites began in March 2001 when Taliban fighters in Afghanistan destroyed two statues of Buddha carved into the hills of Bamiyan.
From the end of next month the Institute for Digital Archaeology will distribute hundreds of internet-enabled 3D cameras through archaeology networks in Iraq. It plans to expand into Lebanon, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan and Turkey.
To provide a complete record, each object will need to be photographed from several angles. The information can then be uploaded to an open-source database online.
The plan is reminiscent of the George Clooney film “The Monuments Men” in which a team of experts were sent into Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II. However, in the real plan experts will flood parts of the Middle East with 3D cameras.