Photogrammetry Preserves Iraqi Artifacts Destroyed By The Islamic State

by Joe Durbin • June 1st, 2016

Photogrammetry is a groundbreaking process by which physical objects are rendered in incredible detail by stitching together multiple individual photographs, and the technique is being used to preserve artifacts being destroyed by the Islamic State.

If you remember the George Clooney, Billy Murray film The Monuments Men that came out a few years ago then you’ll be familiar with the abhorrent practice of militant cultural destruction. Combatants in skirmishes throughout history frequently destroy the artistic, literary, musical, or otherwise culturally relevant artifacts of their opposition. This aggressive practice strips a society of its history, and can keep it from reconstructing successfully after the immediate conflict reaches its conclusion.

One such aggressor currently engaged in cultural destruction is the Islamic State, and one if its most significant victims was the Mosul Museum in Iraq. Mosul is the second largest museum in the entire country and, in 2003, it was famously looted by invaders during the Iraq War. The cultural loss was tremendous, but now a new photogrammetry program known as RecoVR: Mosul is aiming to restore all of these significant artifacts to the people that deserve to benefit from it.

Aftermath of the museum attacks. Credit: Al Jazeera

Aftermath of the museum attacks. Credit: Al Jazeera

RecoVR: Mosul is being produced via a joint effort between The Economist and Rekrei (formerly known as Project Mosul).

According to Frank Andrejasich, the associate director of The Economist‘s Media Lab, this ongoing reclamation project, “began crowdsourcing photographs and using photogrammetry to create 3D models of destroyed artifacts. Together, with production help from VR studio Visualise, we created a virtual space to showcase these artifacts.”

A reconstructed artifact in RecoVR: Mosul.

A reconstructed artifact in RecoVR: Mosul.

This is The Economist‘s first ever foray into virtual reality and they are positioning the project as a “response to Islamic State’s systematic destruction of antiquities in and around the Mosul Museum,” according to Andrejasich.

RecoVR’s current progress is viewable on YouTube and Facebook. A Google Cardboard download is also available, and Andrejasich explained that a Samsung Gear VR application is on the way as well.

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