Keeping Historical Sites Safe With Open Heritage Project


Preserving our past is actually an important part of understanding our heritage. It helps us understand where we came from. It also helps us understand what we did right or wrong so that we can fix it or find an alternative method.

One threat to historical sites is human conflict such as war and deforestation and also natural disasters. But what if we could protect these sites? Well, that’s what Google is working on. The company has partnered CyArk to help preserve historical sites around the world. CyArk, a nonprofit that deals with 3D Laser scanning will join up with Google will aim at protecting sites of importance that are at the risk of being damaged beyond repair or wiped out entirely.

How would this work?

Called the Open Heritage project, the project will make use of CyArk’s laser-scanning technology to capture all the data needed to create a virtual model of it. This way, even if the physical site is destroyed, there will at least be an online model of it. The model would be accessible online via a PC, a mobile device or whilst wearing a VR headset

Open Heritage Project
Image taken from Google Arts and Culture

According to Chance Coughenour, who is a digital archaeologist and program manager with the Google Arts and Culture Division, the Open Heritage project can be used to not only scan and keep a record of historical sites, but also to identify areas of damage and possibly give archaeologists a chance to actually carry out restoration projects.

Open Heritage Project
The Ananda Ok Kyaung temple in Bagan, Myanmar was one site that CyArk laser mapped before it was hit by an earthquake.
(Image Credits: VentureBeat)

In case you didn’t know, Google Arts & Culture went live in 2011. This was Google’s way of helping preserve art from around the world, and to also make it accessible to others. What initially started off as a sort of Street View-style walk-through of museums has now expanded to numerous different types of art and culture, as well as VR tours and educational tools.

Sri Lanka too has its own restoration project underway

This was a collaboration between the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) Australia, and the Department of Archeology in Sri Lanka. Called “LIDAR Based 3D Mapping for Nondestructive Heritage Conservation”, the project made use of LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) to 3D map archaeological heritage sites in Sri Lanka. The intention here was to aid archeologies in preserving these historical monuments.

Performing a LIDAR Scan of the Jethawana Sthupaya
Image Credits: RCS2 Technologies

The project kicked off from the 2nd of May 2017 to the 7th of May 2017. Here, the team visited sites such as the Jethawanarama Sthupaya, Kuttam Pokuna, Sigiriya, and Polonnaruwa. They attached a LIDAR device to a drone and maneuvered it to so that they could record the location by capturing images of it. The captured data was then fed into CloudCompare, which is an open source 3D point cloud processing software.

Can Sri Lanka Benefit from the Open Heritage Project?

Well, that remains to be seen. It would certainly help showcase the historical and significant sites around Sri Lanka to the rest of the World. In addition, if sites require restoration, we as Sri Lankans could also benefit from the archaeological experience of those in the Google Arts and Culture team as well.

The Open Heritage models will be available online and on the Google Arts and Culture mobile apps for iOS and Android. The apps will also support the VR tours through Google’s Daydream platform. If you want learn more about the Open Heritage Project, you can do so by clicking here. 


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