MCN 2016 Sessions – The Digital Preservation of Babylon and VR Archives of At-Risk Heritage Sites

The digital preservation of Babylon and VR archives of at-risk heritage sites


3D photogrammetry model of a Hatrene priest. Credit: “luciamontalban” on Sketchfab.

Session Leader : Brinker Ferguson, PhD candidate, University of California Santa Cruz
Wednesday, November 2, 2016 1:45 PM – 2:15 PM


In the winter of 2009, a team of heritage professionals documented the site of Babylon using a variety of technologies in digital capture including laser scanning, photogrammetry, structured light and aerial lidar. Since that time, Babylon and its surrounding world heritage sites have come under particularly grave threat from civil war in Syria, the Iraq war, and the campaigns of fundamentalist groups such as ISIS. Currently, there is a growing sentiment within heritage organizations that while it may not be possible to physically save all at-risk sites, it might at least be possible to produce digital records for posterity, to forestall all knowledge loss and to allow future scholars and conservators to study and possible “visit” these sites, if only virtually. But such initiatives raise many ethical questions. Who is doing the documentation? What sites are deemed most at risk and most important to digitally preserve? To whom does this information belong? What tools are being used to document, and what types of data capture, imaging, and archiving do they privilege? How is this data visualized and published? And who has access to the archive of information? The Babylon project will serve as a productive locus from which to unpack issues of politics, ownership, heritage, power, and representation. In addition, this presentation will explore two different 3-D virtual reality projects that used the Babylon data. I plan to examine if they privilege particular types of imaging and knowledge sharing or if these projects might be seen as a potential model for future heritage site archives.