The Triumphal Arch in NYC

By: Bryony Smerdon

The speakers gather under the Triumphal Arch of Palmyra after its unveiling

The speakers gather under the Triumphal Arch of Palmyra after its unveiling

On Monday 19th September, the Triumphal Arch of Palmyra was unveiled in New York City. This was a particularly important moment for the IDA and its partners, and one that could not have occurred at a more relevant political juncture. It had not been anticipated that the official unveil would coincide with a city-wide terrorist manhunt, governmental discussions with the UN regarding Syria, or a downpour of Biblical proportions. Regardless of these stressors, the arch’s cover was lifted just after 1pm, revealing the stunning 11 tonnes of carved Egyptian marble to members of the press and public in City Hall Park. The arch received thousands of visitors during its five day residency in the park, including groups of Syrian nationals, for whom the installation seemed particularly poignant.

Throughout the week the IDA also hosted a number of educational events to coincide with the public installation of the Triumphal Arch in front of City Hall.  One such exhibition, which will continue to run at the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library until the October 11th, aims to promote inclusive and accessible cultural experiences through the use of technologies such as 3D printing and tactile artefacts. This has already proven to be an incredibly successful and engaging installation, helping to bring Palmyra (and more extensively, the reality of a shared cultural tradition) to those who are blind or partially sighted. We had great fun sharing this experience with our guests, and all their lovely guide dogs!

Dr. Alexy Karenowska describes the tactile exhibition at its opening at the NYPL Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Books Library

Dr. Alexy Karenowska describes the tactile exhibition at its opening at the NYPL Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Books Library

Amidst of this hectic week of appointments, installations and manual labour, we had time to reflect on the impact of the arch’s presence in the city at an impromptu gathering on Thursday 22nd September, which featured a tribute to the legendary musical influence of Simon and Garfunkel. The arch provided a powerful backdrop for this homage, highlighting that the reconstruction has become a symbolic monument in its own right. This architecture will continue to accumulate new socio-cultural narratives and different identities as it travels further around the globe, so watch this space! 

Our 2nd Season in Marsoulas

By: Suzanna Hamer (IDA intern)

Suzanna Hamer and Benjamin Altshuler get to work in the cave

Suzanna Hamer and Benjamin Altshuler get to work in the cave

This summer I was given the opportunity to study and image prehistoric cave art in Marsoulas, alongside an eclectic and extremely talented mix of people. I arrived in Toulouse and, speaking no French, promptly got lost – an impressive feat if you’ve ever seen the size of the airport. I hurried to meet Roger Michel and company at the villa, and we got started the next morning. I was lucky enough to take a class about prehistoric cave art so I knew at least a little about it, but I wasn’t ready for how breathtaking it would be in person. The first cave we visited was Niaux, which features huge caverns and walls covered in depictions of various creatures. It was hard to imagine how people used to create such realistic images under flickering torchlight, and how paintings that were made thousands of years ago could still have such an incredible effect.

An example of cave painting in the interior of Marsoulas cave

An example of cave painting in the interior of Marsoulas cave

The entrance to the Marsoulas cave is hidden, tucked into an unsuspecting curve in the road. Only experts would know how to get there, and thankfully we were with two such people: Gilles Tosello and Carole Fritz. We were able to fully explore the cave – this included a lot of crawling and wiggling through tight spaces, and even a little swimming through caverns at the end. Using reflectance transformation imaging (RTI), we captured many of the ancient art in the cave that had been previously vandalized or damaged. There was a feeling of reverence in the cave, knowing you were standing somewhere that had only been accessed by a few humans in the last 16,000 years. Drawings of bison and other animals were carved into the walls, but for me, the piéce de résistance was a drawing that Gilles and Carole believed to be of an actual human. It was far down in the cave, and only one person could view it at a time, but we managed to image it with RTI. Hopefully with this RTI technology, people will be able to learn more about these prehistoric caves and the astonishing people who inhabited them. 

A Very Busy Summer

June and July have been busy and productive for the IDA. We have been privileged to attend a number of conferences around the world and have met amazing organizations, forged new partnerships and learned a great deal about the cultural heritage and international development sectors.

The summer began with a presentation at the opening of the Venice Biennale by Dr. Alexy Karenowska and Benjamin Altshuler. A piece of the Triumphal Arch of Palmyra will be on display at the Biennale until September, as a part of an exhibition on the latest technological innovations in art and architecture.

A piece of the Triumphal Arch of Palmyra at the Venice Biennale

A piece of the Triumphal Arch of Palmyra at the Venice Biennale

Executive Director Roger Michel, Dr. Karenowska and Khaled Hiatlih, who was instrumental in the IDA’s Trafalgar Square Program, also presented at the Emergency Safeguarding of Syria’s Cultural Heritage Conference, which was held in Berlin in early June.

Emergency Safeguarding of Syria's Cultural Heritage, Berlin

Emergency Safeguarding of Syria's Cultural Heritage, Berlin

IDA representatives also attended the #Unite4Heritage UNESCO Conference in Brussels and the annual meeting of the Abraham Path Group in Geneva to discuss the role of the Million Image Database in documenting endangered sites and monuments. These conferences also gave us an opportunity to meet many of the organizations working tirelessly on documenting and cataloging cultural heritage around the globe. It is inspirational to know that this community is robust and growing. There has been an upswelling of support for initiatives like #Unite4Heritage and the Million Image Database (which is about to break the quarter million image mark).

#Unite4Heritage, Brussels

#Unite4Heritage, Brussels

Roger Michel was honored by Trinity College Oxford at the Bathurst Society Lecture and Dinner. Both Mr. Michel and Dr. Karenowska spoke on the subject of reconstruction and its place in the world of cultural heritage management. Dr. Karenowska gave a particularly interesting perspective as a scientist on the value of authenticity and the division between original and recreation in the minds of the public.

The IDA’s conference season was rounded out with a presentation to the EU Presidency in Amsterdam on June 30th and roundtable discussions with some of the world’s leading innovators at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation’s ‘Metamorphosis’ meeting.

Thank you to all of the individuals and organizations involved in the meetings we attended over June and July. It has been a privilege to be part of the international discussion on cultural heritage preservation. The IDA will host its own conference, World Heritage Strategy Forum 2016, in Cambridge, Massachusetts from September 9-11th 2016.

Palmyra at the Fogg Museum, Harvard University

Relief of a Man and Child (1998.3) and Relief of a Woman and Two Children (1906.3) from Palmyra, c. 150 CE. (Fogg Museum, Harvard University)

Relief of a Man and Child (1998.3) and Relief of a Woman and Two Children (1906.3) from Palmyra, c. 150 CE. (Fogg Museum, Harvard University)

Last week, the IDA visited two funerary sculptures from Palmyra that are housed in the Fogg Museum at Harvard University. The sculptures, pictured below, represent the multi-cultural history of Palmyra and its importance as a crossroads in the ancient world.

Both pieces, one a relief of a man and his child, the other a relief of a woman with two sons, feature Aramaic inscriptions. The clothing depicted in both reliefs is culturally mixed. The man, identified in the inscription as ‘Male’, wears his hair in the Roman style common during the time of Hadrian as well as Greco-Roman clothing, while his son, identified as ‘Maliku’ sports a short tunic and Parthian trousers. This mixed wardrobe is significant in that it highlights the open and culturally vibrant nature of Palmyra at the time (c. 150 CE).

Relief of a Man and Child, wearing both Greco-Roman and Parthian style clothing

Relief of a Man and Child, wearing both Greco-Roman and Parthian style clothing

In the woman’s portrait, her two sons stand behind her holding symbols of the family’s agricultural wealth; one holding a bunch of grapes, the other with dates hanging from his wrist. The wealth of Palmyra, a rich Oasis halfway between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates, would make it one of the most successful and important Mediterranean cities of the 2nd and 2rd centuries CE. Extensive trade from both the east and the west made Palmyra a hub for the flow of goods and ideas, again, visible in the blend of cultural symbols visible in the funerary reliefs.

Relief of a Woman and Two Children. The two children are holding symbols of their family's agricultural wealth 

Relief of a Woman and Two Children. The two children are holding symbols of their family's agricultural wealth 

The city, which became part of the Roman empire in 14 CE, had a history of autonomy and had long been a meeting place for east and west. In roughly 130 CE, the city was declared a civitas libera or free city, and this is reflected in the unique nature of the art and architecture of the city. These funerary portraits, for example, not only show a mixing of peoples and ideas in the city, but are constructed in a singular form, in which the subject is fully frontal and the viewer engages with their image directly. Palmyra, then, was a place for different peoples to come together and exchange goods and ideas, a hybrid society that adopted traits from the many immigrants who called it home. 

Day 2: Unveiling the Triumphal Arch in Trafalgar Square

After a night literally under wraps, the arch is ready for its official unveiling at 1:00pm. The morning was busy, as teams from the IDA, Royal Holloway, Vertex Modeling, and Snap Theatre put the finishing touches on the educational activities that will take place throughout the day.

The Arch before the official unveiling on Tuesday, April 19th

The Arch before the official unveiling on Tuesday, April 19th

At 11:30am, before the arch is even unveiled, the first theatre workshops began at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Andy Graham and his colleagues from Snap Theatre devised interactive workshops that allowed children to explore the stories of how the arch came to be, the significance of Palmyra and even to do some creative building of their own using creative techniques.

Saif Al Aleeli speaks at the unveiling of the Million Image Database

Saif Al Aleeli speaks at the unveiling of the Million Image Database

Guests for the unveiling of the Million Image Database began arriving at noon, including representatives from the government of Dubai, and London Mayor Boris Johnson. The Million Image Database was formally unveiled by the Sheikh, Mayor Johnson and the Chief Executive Officer of the Museum of the Future, Saif Al Aleeli.

Roger Michel speaks before the unveiling of the Arch on Trafalgar Square

Roger Michel speaks before the unveiling of the Arch on Trafalgar Square

The Arch is unveiled by Mayor Boris Johnson

The Arch is unveiled by Mayor Boris Johnson

The grand unveiling took place at 1:00pm. Executive Director Roger Michel made an impassioned speech on the importance of our cultural heritage and its place in the world consciousness. He was followed by Mayor Johnson, whose speech touched on the anger felt by those around the world at the destruction of sites like Palmyra and our determination to stand up in defiance to ISIS. With that, the sheet was removed and the arch was officially open to the public. The unveiling was accompanied by a trio of musicians playing ancient Syrian music on reconstructed instruments.

See a video of the unveiling here: http://www.cnn.com/videos

Visitors to the Educational Marquee

Visitors to the Educational Marquee

As the day progressed, thousands of people saw the arch, touched it, took pictures with it, and visited the educational marquee to discuss the project and its implications with members of the IDA. The response was overwhelming. We were particularly touched by the number of people who wanted to have frank discussions about reconstruction and restoration. The goal of the IDA was to start a conversation about the importance of cultural heritage, and it was exciting to see so many people react in this way! 

Day 1: Building the Arch

It’s Monday, 18th April, about 6:30am, and Roger Michel and Alexy Karenowska are already out on Trafalgar Square, surrounded by scaffolding, trucks, folded marquees and a crane. Today is the day that the Triumphal Arch of Palmyra will be built in Trafalgar Square. The entire process only takes about 5 hours, as the arch itself is made up of seven pieces which are easily joined together by steel re-bar, like lego.

Early stages of building on Trafalgar Square, April 18th

Early stages of building on Trafalgar Square, April 18th

Giacomo Massari, the man responsible for cutting and carving 11 tonnes of Egyptian marble into the arch, directs workmen as they place piece upon piece until all seven sit comfortably on top of the special metal palette which will distribute the weight of the arch across Trafalgar Square.

Workers place the final of seven pieces on the Triumphal Arch 

Workers place the final of seven pieces on the Triumphal Arch 

Crowds have gathered to admire the arch, which is still wrapped in plastic wrap.  We get a little time to admire, but the arch is quickly covered up by a giant white sheet and blocked off from the public, in anticipation for the unveiling the next day.

The arch in plastic wrap before it is covered with a sheet for the night 

The arch in plastic wrap before it is covered with a sheet for the night 

The completion of this stage, the physical construction of the arch in Trafalgar Square represents the culmination of months of work from members of the IDA, the Mayor’s office, the Museum of the Future, Vertex Modeling, TorArt and a host of volunteers. It also stands as a testament to the power of our collective efforts against those who wish to destroy the world’s cultural heritage. 

World Government Summit 2016

The Institute for Digital Archaeology was fortunate enough to attend the World Government Summit in Dubai from February 8-10th. Not only were we able to see some wonderful speakers, including the head of the World Bank and the head of the OECD, but the IDA also gave it’s own presentation on the Million Image Database Project.

 

The discussion was lead by Saif Abdullah Al Aleeli, the CEO of the Dubai Museum of the Future Foundation, and touched on the mission of the Institute, the technology behind the Million Image Database Project and the educational importance of cultural heritage preservation. You can see the full program materials below.

We were, for the first time, displaying a preview of the MID website portal, including images that Field Director Benjamin Altshuler and advisory board member Giles Richardson collected in the UAE during a visit in early January. It was so exciting to see these aspects of the project come to fruition, and we were overwhelmed by the support from the UAE and the World Government Summit attendees. 

World Government Summit Program

Imaging at the Bardo Museum

Seven months after the deadly Bardo National Museum Attacks in Tunis, the museum’s doors are open to visitors. In fact, the museum held a ceremonial reopening less than a week after the attack, but there are still signs of March 18th, 2015 amongst the exhibit

 

This week, the IDA’s Benjamin Altshuler is visiting the Bardo in order to image their priceless Carthaginian artifacts using the 3D technology of the Million Image Database program. His images are some of the thousands the IDA has received documenting cultural heritage sites and artifacts around the globe.  

 

The 3D images cannot be viewed correctly without 3D glasses (though even the ones you are given in the cinema will work), but the examples below demonstrate the MID technology. These images will be used to work up 3D renderings for the database, technology that is also already producing amazing results. 

The Bardo National Museum highlights the necessity of cultural heritage preservation in a time when museums, universities, libraries and other cultural centers are under threat of destruction. We were privileged to be able to image the collection at the Bardo and to be a part of their ongoing efforts to preserve the remains of one of the most powerful centers of the ancient world. The IDA will continue to image in museums and sites throughout the Middle East and is receiving images from collaborators in the field.  

Imaging in the Ancient Caves of Marsoulas

by: Uxue Rambla Eguilaz

 

Last June the IDA in collaboration with NYU and the University of Toulouse organized an exciting imaging project at the cave of Marsoulas in south France. Although small (the cave is only fifty meters long and between four and one meters wide), the cave has very complex Palaeolithic panels with engraved and painted motifs superimposing themselves. And here it is where RTI comes into play: to help uncover subtle details to the naked eye.

View of the region nearby the cave of Marsoulas  

View of the region nearby the cave of Marsoulas
 


The cave of Marsoulas, closed to the public to ensure its preservation, has been studied with both traditional techniques and the latest technology, including 3D imaging and RTI. The aims of the IDA project at Marsoulas were to image sections of different panels to see in the study of which areas within the cave RTI would be most helpful, to facilitate present and future research, and to assess how well can RTI work in the cave. Since RTI technology works best in flat surfaces, the sometimes uneven cave surfaces created more than one challenge. But what is a project without a challenge! 
The processed images included sections of modern graffiti and engravings, part of a red-dotted panel, a small but complex group of bisons in an array of positions, and part of a big panel of both engraved and painted horses. The head of the iconic red-dotted bison was also imaged to see in more detail its incised and later painted eye, and its engraved horns. Furthermore, Marsoulas is filled with human representations, of which we imaged a small wall fragment depicting an intriguing frontal anthropomorphic figure with what seemed to be a bird’s peak. These images will now be used alongside other data for the still ongoing research of a cave where there is still plenty to discover.

Selecting the Panel  

Selecting the Panel
 

Uxue Rambla Eguilaz sets up the equipment  

Uxue Rambla Eguilaz sets up the equipment
 

The Dotted Bison  

The Dotted Bison
 

Ben Altshuler Positions the flash in a tricky bit of the caves.  

Ben Altshuler Positions the flash in a tricky bit of the caves.
 


           

 

 

 

 

Indiana Jones on the BBC

The early stages of a £50 3D camera. photo credit: Alexy Karenowska

The early stages of a £50 3D camera. photo credit: Alexy Karenowska

We had the wonderful opportunity, recently, to talk with Padraig Belton at the BBC about our plans for the future of cultural heritage preservation, and what we are doing to contribute to it. Check out the full article below!

Mr. Belton was flattering enough to refer to us as "Indiana Jonses" and highlight 3D imaging as a means of legitimate, safe, cheap and fast preservation. Watch the website for further information and updates regarding the 3D imaging project. 


 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-33262530?post_id=10101220670279139_10101220670274149#_=_

IDA Conference: Day 2

Thomas Mannack kicked off Day 2 with a discussion of the digitization of the Beazley Archive and the incredible online database of pottery that now exists. The database combines the Beazley Archive, the British Museum and countless other institutions. Plus, it uses Beazley’s original system as a standard making recording consistent from when he began in the 1920s to the present day. Dr. Mannack not only spoke about the importance of open source technology in the humanities, but he also managed to fit in some of the RTI work that has been done in the Archive, showing sketch marks, misfires and painting techniques in more detail than has ever been seen before. Check out the online database below. I typed in Herakles and got 4302 results, so there’s plenty on there to explore!

Screen capture from the Beazley Archive Database

Screen capture from the Beazley Archive Database

 

Next up was Rebecca Benefiel, and her presentation on graffiti in Herculaneum was fascinating. For a start, I was definitely expecting lots of rude words written 10 ft high on the walls of the public forum, with visions of some poor local task-force soldiers scrubbing them off and chasing after pesky urchins. The graffiti were, in fact, super tiny and incredibly difficult to see. RTI to the rescue! Or, at least, in some situations. The RTI only worked on walls that had been sufficiently covered from above so that the Italian sunlight interfered less. Still, some fascinating stuff, including some scrawlings of camels and an alien with fairy wings and claws who, it was decided, is probably not of Roman origin…. (check out more at http://ancientgraffiti.wlu.edu/hgp/)

Herculaneum Team 2014! from http://ancientgraffiti.wlu.edu/hgp/

Herculaneum Team 2014! from http://ancientgraffiti.wlu.edu/hgp/

Coming from the physics department, Alexy Karenowska stepped up to give a paper on magnetism and the history of science in archaeology. After the best audience interaction portion of the conference, in which she showed a room full of humanities students how a super conductor works, using dry ice, she gave an insightful and thought-provoking talk on the importance of understanding how scientific methods have come into being, and how the social constructions surrounding them can influence work. Always helps to throw in an Ambrose Bierce quote as well.

One of the more amusing slides from Day 2. Courtesy of Alexy Karenowska

One of the more amusing slides from Day 2. Courtesy of Alexy Karenowska

After lunch were the final two presentations. One from Herb Golder on the way that the brain perceives information in print as opposed to digital forms. The argument boiled down (there was quite a lot of complicated science that I’m not going to try to distil for this blog, as I’m still trying to wrap my head around it), was that the brain reacts much better and can achieve more looking at printed material, and we should make sure that digital finds should be printed in quite high quality and studied without the damaging backlights of computers. On top of this, the backlighting can actually detract from being able to see minute detail on the image. Roger Michel ended the conference with a brief discussion of the Greek Aldines, and some words of thanks to all who came.

If you have any specific questions about the conference, throw them in the comments! We’ll be putting up some of the papers, and are on track to publish the first volume of the JDA in the early fall! 

IDA Conference: Day 1

Benjamin Altshuler opening the conference with cultural heritage preservation

Benjamin Altshuler opening the conference with cultural heritage preservation

            The IDA conference on Digital Imaging got off to an early start on Saturday. As our wonderful student helpers threw up the last of the posters and downed some coffee, delegates from London, Reading, Cambridge, Oxford, Vienna and Washington D.C. arrived. What was immediately apparent was the wide variety of scholarship that was present. We had classicists and paleographers alongside underwater archaeologists and 3D imaging specialists. Everyone, however, had one goal in common, which was the use of innovative methods in archaeology.

The first presentation from Benjamin Altshuler provided a broad-brush overview of techniques such as RTI, multispectral imaging, and 3D imaging. Perhaps the most impactful section was the discussion of cultural heritage preservation. Mr. Altshuler laid out a plan for the future of cultural heritage preservation, putting the onus on archaeologists to record and share their findings in open-source networks as well as the curators, galleries, sellers and private collectors who have the power to regulate the trade of antiquities.

After some time battling the computer (because it’s not a conference, particularly one with ‘digital’ in it’s name, unless something goes wildly wrong with the tech), the group was moved to a seminar room in which all the right bits of machinery functioned, and we heard from Prof. Frederick Baker of Cambridge on the rock art of Valcamonica. Dr. Baker brought a new perspecitve to the 'digital' aspect of the conference, as he demonstrated the possibilities of video, sound recording and animation in the study of the ancient world. 

 

Three student presentations followed. Peter Brugger of Southampton discussed 3D printing and the unforeseen upsides of it’s shortcomings. Catriona Cooper shared her fascinating work on the visualization and auralization of 14th century National Trust sites. And Philip Smither, working with Matthew Nicholls of Reading re-imagined a Roman camp through a mixture of literary reference and 3D recreation.

Catriona Cooper's visual model of Bodiam Castle

Catriona Cooper's visual model of Bodiam Castle

Peter Brugger's home 3D printing set up. 

Peter Brugger's home 3D printing set up. 

After lunch we had the pleasure of listening to Nigel Wilson discuss the techniques he has used in paleography on the Archimedes project. Don’t let the use of the overhead projector and transparencies fool you, Mr. Wilson’s demonstration of the use of multi-spectral imaging highlighted some truly remarkable results. His presentation linked to that of Dr. Francesco D’Aiuto, whose work with Nigel on the Menander Palimpsest produced some equally astonishing visuals. The minute greek lettering is only a few millimetres tall! Not only that, but their work has just about doubled the amount of Menander that we have.

Day 1 ended on a high note, with Giles Richardson’s presentation on digital techniques on maritime archaeology. RTI works underwater! He was able to share some amazing images of RTI images from multiple wreck sites. The potential for being able to image and study these difficult to reach sites in such detail is immense, and could lead to myriad and fascinating discoveries in the near future. 

Stay tuned for Day 2!