Digital representations may soon be all that is left of historic artifacts being destroyed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other related militant groups. However, 3D models of the these relics of the past may be better than losing all trace of their existence, one group of volunteers contends.
The remains of the Mosul Museum in Iraq were looted by members of ISIS in February 2015, as the group took control of the city. The facility had already been heavily damaged by the 2003 invasion of that nation, led by the United States.
Mesopotamia, an ancient land known as the cradle of civilization, once sat between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, in modern-day Iraq. Relics from that long-lost territory, as well as neighboring Assyria, were once held at the now-decimated museum.
Members of ISIS have also destroyed a series of other ancient relics around the nation, some of which date back to the dawn of the Common Era, 2,000 years ago. Project Mosul aims to preserve some of the ancient artifacts housed at the Mosul Museum in 3D graphics.
"Project Mosul aims to avoid the rhetoric of hate with which these acts of destruction have been associated and instead wants to focus on a message of hope: by working together, it is possible to preserve our shared memory and connections to our cultural heritage, even renew and invigorate it, regardless of the acts of destruction currently being perpetrated upon it," Project Mosul leaders reported on its Web site.
Regular 2D photographs of the artifacts were assembled into 3D images using a process known as photogrammetry. This is similar to the way the human body uses a pair of images from a distance apart to assemble the information needed to recognize depth. Most of the original photographs were supplied by visitors to the museum, including many people with no scientific training at all.
Such 3D scans could herald a new age in museums, as people could view, examine, and digitally rotate objects in cyberspace that can presently only be viewed through panes of glass. Such a future digital Mosul Museum could also feature projected exhibits through virtual reality headsets, such as the Oculus Rift.
"I think new technology makes it possible to preserve these objects despite having lost their physical reality. At the same time, allowing interactive displays that not only can show the artifact or monument, but give it the context of history, can reshape what museums are. Museums can become livelier places through the mashup of 3D models with linked data," said Matthew Vincent, an archaeologist who has worked in Jordan, over the border from Iraq, and a co-founder of Project Mosul.