On going damage to Tangible Cultural Heritage in the Middle East is often due to war and sometime to intentional destruction or neglect. Risk preparedness issues as well as monitoring, small or large-scale reconstruction and recovery, often implies the best possible documentation, as recommended by ICOMOS and its International Scientific Committees.
In Syria, Cultural Heritage damage and destruction was rather extensively documented, often by amateurs with quite simple equipment. That information was first published by militant’s websites abroad like APSA. Other groups like Heritage for Peace emerged later and foreign heavily subsidized scholarly institutions like ASOR were able to keep substantially track of most events thanks to aerial and ground photographs plus expert analyses. Its collection of weekly reports is impressive. Neither data basis nor GIS are available so far.
Tables listing hundreds of sites with their geographical coordinates were established in English universities (Durham, Oxford). Many actors collected photographs of damaged sites in public crowd sourcing attempts.
Maps or aerial photographs of damaged areas like Aleppo and Mosul were published. Some maps are more geared to the intensity of bombing and destruction than specifically documenting cultural heritage.
Some foreign institutions gave a special attention to digitizing their paper documents about Syria in their home countries, like in Germany. This approach has anyway highlighted the importance of safeguarding cadastre records and property registers in urban areas.
The use of new programs with simple tools for rapid survey and photography of damaged sites was experimented in Yemen by UNESCO and GOPHCY. ICOMOS and its partners (ICCROM-Athar, ARC/WH, Global Heritage Fund and Prince Claus Fund) are preparing Project AMAL, a more elaborate version. It includes connection to standard files, databases, maps and references.
In Syria, the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) had a good paper inventory largely inherited from the 20th century, with a treasure of documentation like the 1930’s restoration works in Palmyra, early photographs of the Azem palace, a plan of the lost Jobar synagogue, etc. Most of its 1,000 files were digitized during the war. Some 1,500 plans were also reportedly digitized in Aleppo recently.
The DGAM has developed a few years ago, a website presenting up-to-date information. It was the first to document destructions in Aleppo with ground photographs on a wide scale after December 2016.
An interactive but not very detailed map of damaged sites in each province is presented in the website.
A no cost agreement with Iconem, a French private firm allowed the DGAM to benefit from drone videos as well as from first 3D video views of some sites like the Palmyra, the Krak des Chevaliers, and Aleppo citadel and souks.
A home-based sustainable 3D inventory is being prepared now with Project ANQA.
ICOMOS, CyArk and the Institute of Cultural Heritage at Yale jointly started to develop this project, with the support of Arcadia Fund. The DGAM provides trainees and oversees the operation in Syria.
It includes a provision of equipment, in room and on site training with UNESCO for photogrammetric and laser capturing 3D data and learning 3D transformation.
A first batch of half a dozen sites in the historic city of Damascus was chosen the progress of the local team is monitored and distant technical support provided.
CyArk will safeguard processed data in the Iron Mountain and an open source platform is to be designed. This would include cultural heritage software, with 3D and video components, plus a “story telling” aspect and extracts from existing publications.
Transfers of large amounts of data from a country at war are technically difficult as electricity is often cut off and interrupts slow web transfers. In other neighbouring countries, it is not easy to find partners willing to commit a permanent unit to a long lasting 3D inventory activity.
In spite of on-going wars all these new approaches remain most useful and often time saving in countries at risk.