How your pictures can help reclaim lost history | Chance Coughenour

How your pictures can help reclaim lost history | Chance Coughenour


Translator: Carolina Casado Parras Why do people deliberately
destroy cultural heritage? By doing so, do they believe
they’re erasing our history? Our cultural memory? It’s true that we are losing
cultural heritage to erosion and natural disasters, but this is something
that is simply difficult to avoid. I’m here to show you today
how we can use pictures — your pictures — to reclaim the history that is being lost using innovative technology and the effort of volunteers. In the early 20th century, archaeologists discovered
hundreds of statues and artifacts at the ancient city of Hatra, in northern Iraq. Statues like this one
were found in fragments, some of them missing their heads or arms, yet the clothing that they are wearing and their pose can still tell us their story. For example, we believe that by wearing
a knee-length tunic and open bare feet, this was representative of a priest. However, with a closer look
at this particular piece, we can see that this tunic being worn
was elaborately decorated, which has led many researchers to believe this was actually a statue of a king
performing his religious functions. When the Mosul Cultural Museum
opened in 1952 in northern Iraq, this statue, as well as others, were placed there to preserve them
for future generations. Following the US-led invasion
of Iraq in 2003, a few statues and artifacts
were relocated to Baghdad, but this statue remained. Then in February of last year,
a video was released, and it instantly went viral. Maybe some of you remember seeing it. Here’s a short clip. (Video) (Singing in Arabic) (Singing ends) Not a very pleasant sight, right? Did you notice anything
familiar in the video? There it is. There is that very statue, as it was toppled over, breaking into pieces. When Matthew Vincent and I saw this video, we were shocked. Since we are archaeologists
using innovative technology for digital preservation, an idea sprung to mind. Maybe we can crowdsource the images
that were taken of these artifacts before they were destroyed, to create digital reconstructions. If we can do that, maybe we can put them
into a virtual museum to tell that story. And so two weeks after we saw this video, we started the project
called Project Mosul. Remember the pictures of the statue
I showed you before? This is actually the crowdsourced
reconstruction of it before it was destroyed. Now, many of you may be wondering, how exactly does this work? Well, the key to this technology
is called photogrammetry, and it was invented here, in Germany. It is the technology that allows us
to use two-dimensional images taken of the same object
from different angles to create a 3D model. I know you may be thinking
this sounds like magic — but it’s not. Let me show you how it works. Here are two crowdsourced images
of the same statue. What the computer can do is it can detect similar features
between the photographs — similar features of the object. Then, by using multiple photos, in this case, it can begin
to reconstruct the object in 3D. In this case, you have the position of the cameras
when each image was taken, shown in blue. Now, this is a partial
reconstruction, I admit, but why would I say partial? Well, simply because the statue
was positioned against a wall. We don’t have photographs
taken of it from the back. If I wanted to complete a full
digital reconstruction of this statue, I would need a proper camera, tripods, proper lighting, but we simply can’t do that
with crowdsourced images. Think about it: How many of you, when you visit a museum, take photographs
of all parts of the statue, even the back side of it? Well, maybe if some of you find
Michelangelo’s David interesting, I guess — (Laughter) But the thing is, if we can find more images of this object, we can improve the 3D model. When we started the project, we started it with
the Mosul Museum in mind. We figured we may get a few images, some people interested, make one or two virtual reconstructions, but we had no idea that we had sparked
something that would grow so quickly. Before we knew it, we realized it was obvious: we could apply this same idea
to lost heritage anywhere. And so, we decided to change
the name of the project to Rekrei. Then, in the summer of last year, “The Economist” magazine’s media lab
reached out to us. They asked us, “Hey, would you like us
to build a virtual museum to put the reconstructions back inside, to tell the story?” Can you imagine us saying no? Of course not. We said yes! We were so excited. This was exactly
the initial dream of that project. And so now, any of you can experience
RecoVR Mosul on your phone, using Google Cardboard or a tablet or even YouTube 360. Here is a screenshot
from the virtual museum. And there it is … the partial reconstruction of the statue, as well as the Lion of Mosul, the first reconstruction
completed by our project. Although the video doesn’t explicitly show
the Lion of Mosul being destroyed, we have many other examples
of large artifacts being destroyed that were simply too large
to have been stolen. For example, the Gate of Nimrud in northern Iraq. This is a digital
reconstruction from before, and this is actually
during the destruction. Or the Lion of Al-Lāt, in Palmyra, Syria: before … and after. Although virtual reconstructions
are primarily the main focus of our project, some people have been asking the question: Can we print them in 3D? We believe 3D printing
doesn’t offer a straightforward solution to lost heritage. Once an object is destroyed, it’s gone. But 3D printing does offer
an addition to tell that story. For example, I can show you here … There is the statue from Hatra and the Lion of Mosul. (Applause) Thank you. Now, if you look closely, you’ll notice that there are some parts
that have been printed in color, and some parts that are in white or gray. This part was added
simply to hold the statues up. This works the same way
if you visit a museum, and a statue is found in fragments; it’s put together
for the people to see it. This makes sense, right? However, we’re much more interested in what virtual reality
has to offer for lost heritage. Here is an example
of one of the tower tombs that was destroyed in Palmyra. Using Sketchfab’s online viewer, we can show that we have reconstructed
three parts of the exterior of the tomb, but we also have photos of the inside, so we’re beginning to create
a reconstruction of the wall and the ceiling. Archaeologists worked there
for many, many years, so we also have architectural
drawing plans of this lost heritage. Unfortunately, we are not only losing
cultural heritage to areas of conflict and at war — we’re also losing it to natural disasters. This is a 3D model
of Durbar Square in Kathmandu, before the earthquake
that occurred last April … and this is after. You may be thinking, you didn’t create these 3D models
with only tourist photographs, and that’s true. But what this represents is the ability for large, public
organizations and private industry to come together
for initiatives like ours. And so one of the major challenges
of our project, really, is to find photographs that were taken
before something happens, right? Well, the internet is basically a database
with millions of images, right? Exactly. So we have begun to develop a tool that allows us to extract images
from websites like Flickr, based on their geotags, to complete reconstructions. Because we’re not only losing cultural
heritage to natural disasters and in war, but we’re also losing it
to something else. Any idea, just looking
at these two pictures? Maybe it’s a little difficult to remember, but only a few weeks ago, this was the example of human
destruction by human stupidity. Because a tourist in Lisbon
wanted to climb onto this statue and take a selfie with it — (Laughter) and pulled it down with him. So we’re already finding photographs to complete a digital
reconstruction of this. We need to remember that the destruction of cultural heritage
isn’t a recent phenomenon. In the 16th century, European priests and explorers burned
thousands of Maya books in the Americas, of which we only have a handful left. Fast-forward to 2001, when the Taliban blew up
the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan. You see, cultural heritage
is about our shared global history. It helps us connect
with our ancestors and their stories, but we’re losing pieces of it
every day to natural disasters and in areas of conflict. Of course, the loss of human life
is the most heartbreaking loss … but cultural heritage offers us a way
to preserve the memory of the people for future generations. We need your help to reclaim
the history that is being lost. Will you join us? (Applause)

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  1. very sad.. the hidden history being destroyed that traces back thousands of years to the beginning of this cycle of humans.
    So much important history being suppressed. I blame Isis yes but also the people using them as mercenaries aka USA.

  2. Might aswell do digital recreations of all the confederate monuments that are still standing. Lord knows those won’t be around much longer either lol

  3. I have to admit I had to stop the video because it was hard for me to watch works of art being destroyed some people thrive on history to tell the story of where they came from. Thank you for allowing me to see the idea you have created to restore the beauty and history of these cultures. ⚘

  4. Thank you for your dedication and work. In the case of the idiot, he's an idiot. In the case of the earthquake, not much you can say. In the case of the "militants", yeah, I'm gonna go ahead and say it was religious rather than "military".

  5. Losing ancient statues, megalithic structures..OR entire ancient cities of historic knowledge and facts…?,..robs us of noticing ..studying..and figuring out..ALL AND EVERY THING SACRED THAT WAS INTENDED TO BE PRESERVED FOR US!..
    .. the GLOBAL ancient mathematics of EVERY SINGLE FUNCTION IN OUR KNOWN UNIVERSE…
    from the importance of cosmology to the way our Earth changes at specific times during ANY AND ALL cycles..all the way down to the vibrational frequencies that all objects emit.. affecting DNA ITSELF ALL THE WAY DOWN TO HOW DNA IS ACTUALLY HEALED AND REGENERATED ….
    this "lost information "..?..WAS DESTROYED ON PURPOSE ..AND NOT FOR RELIGIOUS ZERO!!!
    (Which i will always believe was destroyed on purpose and for these reasons)..
    Because ..ALL OF THE DESTROYED OBJECTS throughout history ?.. provide EVERY ONE with the TRUTHS ABOUT ABSOLUTELY EVERY THING that has confused generation after generation …including assassinations of people who either knew too much..or threatened to SHARE WHAT THEY KNEW ..
    my opinion at this moment in time..
    And probably thousands of other people's also …i am not the only one who's gut is talking out loud.
    Peace n Hugz people …

  6. I have thousands of photos from ancient Turkey and Greece, hundreds from Germany. They are all digitized. Where do we send them? I can put them on dvd's, what format do you need? Most of them are .tiff or .jpeg.

  7. The answer to the question that was asked in the biggining is ignorant. People destroy cultural heritage due to religious dogma or cynical financial interests.

  8. This is African culture. They're destroying it because they don't want us to know I history. This is not the white dudes culture.

  9. A digital printed miniature of my girlfriend for her birthday present would be a good suprise. Wait… i don't even have a gf

  10. 7:58 It's clear from the audience reaction that while he may prefer to concentrate on virtual reality, people still feel a stronger connection to physical objects, even plastic miniatures. It would be wonderful if the final phase of the project could be for sculptors and stone masons to use the digital models to make full-scale replicas in the original materials.

  11. Drones with cameras must just fly around and inside every artifact we know today, making hundreds of photos and radar pictures (for depth understanding). They must fly every day until the very best digital copies is created. Not one, not hundred but all artifacts must be digitalised ! We must fund it and save our history for the future!

  12. Don't you think they rob the real stuff and they just make a video of puff stuff ,,, that way every one will be happy just with a movie or a story,,,

    It's like news 📺 you see it but,,, how real is a new when it's only to make believe something that is not real but a story 😱

  13. Despicable that they destroyed history they found "disagreeable". It doesn't change history. It fosters disdain for those who destroy because of their own insecurities.

  14. What would also be super cool is when temporary installations get put up in a place before it is taken down there are a bunch of pictures taken and it is digitally reconstructed and each major city has a virtual museum so we can continue to look at the works of art

  15. if you're on a good browser and want to waste some time: Sketchfab, the tool the presenter used to show the models, is actually a website with thousands of models, check it out: https://sketchfab.com/

  16. I immediately thought of Confederate statues in the South that are being destroyed before our very eyes. It's so sad that these people have no foresight into what they are destroying.

  17. Just a hint for the professionals amongst you.
    Get the best gear for this job from Dr. Clauss.
    https://dr-clauss.net/en/vermessungstechnik-3/rodeon-scan
    That stuff is already in use all over the world. What about crowdfunding a project?

  18. In all the ways your idea of preserving our history should be supported, I'll try my best to help your project… thumbs up to ur effort 🙂

  19. The clips of people destroying sickens me. I could barely watch it.

    So, now I'm even more grateful to see people are working hard to restore and/or help preserve our history.

  20. The outer appearance is only a tiny part of the information that ancient artefacts contain. The material and the textual can tell us lots about ancient technology and trade.

  21. I would add that "areas of conflict" also concern those regions that we normally do not associate with it immediately. In that way the presentation to me has a blind spot given that we see ideological battles affecting material culture in far more contexts than just the often used one of Islamic fundamentalist groups. In the very country, where Mr. Coughenour gives his presentation, for example, cultural heritage has just recently been destroyed due to differing readings of history and discursive dispute over what should count as national history of Germany and what should not. With Western German hegemonic discourses triumphing over Eastern German models of society and culture, the government destroyed the so called Palace of the Republic of the GDR – an architecturally and historically important space of the early 1970s. I would add such allegedly legitimized forms of the destruction of cultural heritage due to ideologically fueled quarrels over the history societies want to preserve to the scope the project discusses. It is a little too easy creating alterity in this issue by pointing to Islamic terrorist groups instead of critically assessing our own concepts of preservation and destruction e.g. in Europe.

  22. I imagine 3d printing, as a means to repair the fragments left, especially reusing materials would be the closest to the original

  23. 10:21 – any details on what statue is that? I remember that in 2016 a tourist broke a statue on Lisbon's National Museum of Arte Antiga… but regarding this one I heard nothing about it

  24. I literally had to stop at 2:35 . How fucking date they? How dare they sing as thousands of years of culture, art, and history are shattered into pieces? What would drive even the most insane of psychopaths the destroy it and hardly bat an eyelash?

  25. Everytime people destroy monuments, books and other cultural products, it sets human knowledge and progress backwards, its why we cannot fully understand ancient civilisations. There is place for the past, even in your personal life. Burning the past never helps our future, we always need the artifacts of life, especially if it is difficult. The people who so zealottly destroy history, have no understanding , only emotions of hate and spite, (whether justified or not). Humans are so sad, its depressingly sad to see.

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