Digital tools and how we use them: The destruction and reconstruction of tangible cultural heritage in Syria
Jana Fredricks, Carnegie Mellon University, USA
AbstractThe increasing use of digital technologies necessitates a reevaluation of professional norms in the cultural heritage sector. Digital technologies provide enticing opportunities to increase accessibility, maximize public standing, decrease costs, and preserve heritage in new, more affordable ways. Digital technologies also present precarious ethical challenges, defy existing definitions and professional values, and risk further commodification of cultural heritage. This paper provides an overview of the digital technologies impacting at-risk cultural heritage sites in Syria, and examines how they are used in the destruction, preservation, and reconstruction of those sites. By investigating current communication structures, surveying the use of geospatial imagery and geospatial data, and assessing technologically-assisted reconstruction efforts, we begin to understand how technology is impacting the destruction and reconstruction of tangible cultural heritage sites in Syria.
Keywords: Cultural Heritage, Technology, Advocacy, Destruction, Conservation, Reconstruction, Syria
The increasing use of digital technologies necessitates a reevaluation of professional norms in the cultural heritage sector. Digital technologies—that is, the practical application of advanced digital devices, systems, and methods—provide enticing opportunities to increase accessibility, maximize public standing, decrease costs, and preserve heritage in new, more affordable ways. Digital technologies, however, also present precarious ethical challenges, defy existing definitions and professional values, and risk further commodification of cultural heritage. Jenny Newell, a curator at the American Museum of Natural History, wrote that digital tools necessitate “new modes of thinking about the past, whether in museums that provide historical interpretations through artifacts and accompanying old and new media, a historian’s narrative presented between two covers, an oral history, a genealogical chart, or any of a host of other methods people use to engage with history and to present the past to others” (Newell, 2012). The cultural sector, like almost all sectors of the economy, has sustained material multi-level shifts as a result of new technologies. As a result, sectorial definitions, norms, and values struggle to adapt decades of thought and theories to reflect the rapidly changing environment. Cultural professionals must critically assess the virtues and vices of digital technologies in order to ethically adapt current definitions, values, and norms, and capitalize on the potential for innovation.
This paper provides an overview of the digital technologies impacting at-risk cultural heritage sites in Syria and examines how they are used in their destruction, preservation, and reconstruction. Digital technologies are being used internationally to address a range of cultural heritage needs, including the effects of climate change and mass tourism. The scope of this paper defines only a narrow geographic focus in order to deeply explore the ethical challenges surrounding the application of technology on cultural heritage sites that are in danger due to warfare and political unrest.
Part I provides a brief contextual overview of the history of the territory of modern Syria, then examines the global transition from mass to networked communication, and how these communication structures are impacting the definition and value of cultural heritage. Part II surveys the use of geospatial imagery and geospatial data in monitoring cultural heritage sites in Syria, and explores the potential for collaboration and data-sharing. Part III provides an overview of the digital technologies being used to reconstruct damaged or destroyed heritage in Syria, and presents multiple perspectives on classical conservation theory and today’s values-based approach to cultural heritage conservation.
An overview of Syria’s cultural heritage and its political situation
The land of modern Syria has been home to civilizations for millennia, passed from the Egyptian empire, to the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and the Ottomans (Mark, 2014). The American School of Oriental Research (ASOR) has identified over 15,000 archaeological sites on Syrian soil, and archeological finds date back 700,000 years (Mark, 2014; Polk, 2013).
The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 ended the rule of the Ottoman empire, and awarded the Syrian territory to France. Thirty years later, in 1946, Syria claimed independence, which brought disorganization, formal and informal warfare with Israel, and continued instability caused by countless coups. Over time, increased military authority led to the establishment of the Hafez al-Assad regime in 1971. The al-Assad leadership was tumultuous, and fostered continued conflict both in and beyond Syrian borders.
When Hafez al-Assad died in 2000, his son, Bashar al-Assad, succeeded his father and perpetuated oppressive authoritarian rule, despite Syrians’ hope for greater freedom. Spurred by governmental humanitarian crimes and the Arab Spring revolution, the Free Syrian Army was formed in 2011, and civil war erupted. The war was further complicated by the invasion of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2014. Since then, ISIS has systematically destroyed cultural heritage sites and objects that negate their religious beliefs (Polk, 2013).
There are six Syrian Arab Republic cultural heritage sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List: the ancient cities of Aleppo (inscribed in 1986), Bosra (1980), Damascus (1979), the ancient villages in Northern Syria (2011), Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din (2006), and the ancient site of Palmyra (1980) (UNESCO, 2017). These sites were added to UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger in 2013, and since then have all sustained damage as a result of the Syrian Civil War. Additionally, the Ancient Roman capital Bosra, Assyrian Tell Sheikh Hamad, Ebla and Mari, Dura-Europos, the Crac des Chevaliers medieval castle complex, and the ancient villages in Northwestern Syria, have also sustained damage or been looted during the conflict (Bluffenstein, 2017).
Part I: Networked communication
Since its advent, media has played an indirect but pivotal role in the cultural heritage sector. Claire Smith organizes contemporary global communication into two categories: mass communication and networked communication (Smith, 2015). Mass communication refers to traditional media such as radio, television, and newspapers which disseminate information from a central source through controlled distribution channels, clearly separating reporter and audience. This paper focuses on the implications of networked communication, which distributes information through both traditional and nontraditional sources, creating a diverse and decentralized array of narratives, unifying the role of participant and spectator (Smith, 2015). Networked communication occurs via an array of online social networks including Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail.
Social media sites and networked communication structures have empowered organizations to advocate and promote organizational platforms and activities. The following section explores how networked communication has been used by terrorist and cultural organizations alike to amplify organizational interests in Syria.
Networked communication platforms provide ISIS with a global distribution channel for messaging and recruitment, using the destruction of world heritage as global propaganda (Smith, 2014). They, like conquerors of the past, exercise cultural vandalism as a means of exerting authority. Through the destruction and degradation of cultural heritage sites and objects, ISIS seeks to obliterate the history and memory of a population through religious and cultural cleansing. Social media is a means of chronicling and distributing cultural vandalism (Amineddoleh, 2015). The media attention that follows incentivizes the destruction occurring in ISIS-held territories.
Figure 1: https://twitter.com/cnnbrk/status/613720427840557056
Networked communication platforms are also used to fight against acts of terror. The International Committee of Blue Shield (ICBS), UNESCO, and Antiquities Coalition use social media to promote global awareness and denounce acts of destruction through their online networks of stakeholders and supporters (Sedlacik, 2015). In one instance, an online campaign called #freebassel advocated for the release of Bassel al-Safadi Khartabil, a Palestinian-Syrian open-source software developer and free-culture activist who was detained by the Syrian regime on March 15, 2012 (Su, 2017; #FreeBassel, 2017). Bassel was a pioneer in documenting at-risk cultural heritage sites—specifically Palmyra—using photogrammetry and virtual 3D modeling. As a part of the #freebassel campaign, #newpalmyra, an online, open-source project was launched, seeking to both raise awareness and collect digitized photographs of damaged cultural heritage sites in Syria. Bassel was executed by the Syrian regime in October of 2015 (Su, 2017). Unfortunately, awareness efforts often fail to incite change or deter destruction due to distance and lack of hard power.
Simultaneously, networked communication platforms have been an effective way for journalists and bystanders to notify mainstream sources of news media of acts of destruction and terror in ISIS-held territories. When ISIS destroyed Palmyra’s Arch of Triumph, it was first reported on Twitter by Khaled AL Homsi on October 4, 2015: “#Palmyra #SavePalmyra#ISIS blows up the #Triumphal_Arch at entrance to colonnade today.” He tweeted a picture of the arch and indicated the damaged areas. Hours later his report was confirmed by satellite imagery and reported by major news outlets including the New York Times and The Guardian (Shaheen, 2015; Barnard, 2015).
Figure 2: https://twitter.com/PalmyraPioneer/status/650769180615147520
The accessibility of documentation and heightened publicity of destruction via networked communication platforms changes the way world heritage is experienced and understood by society. What was once defined as a singular tangible geographical site is now expressed by a multitude of perspectives and experienced by the public in an unprecedented setting. This shift demands an expansion of the definition of cultural heritage and a reconsideration of its value. “Although reframing the current conversation to be more inclusive of alternative definitions of heritage and alternative solutions for what constitutes preservation cannot end the destruction of heritage,” says author Melissa Sedlacik, “it can open the discussion regarding what it is we are trying to save and what role can and does social media play in heritage preservation” (Sedklacik, 2015).
Networked communications platforms do not currently offer a means of preventing or protecting against destruction; yet as definitions expand to include exposure through global connectivity, perhaps greater understanding amongst cultural professionals will manifest in increased impact.
Part II: Earth observation imagery and geographical information systems
Earth observation imagery allows governments, archaeologists, and cultural heritage stakeholders to monitor and analyze inaccessible geographical regions, such as sites in Syria and other cultural heritage sites in conflict zones.
In the late 19th century, archaeologists began using aerial photographs to detect changes in cultural heritage locations. Satellite imagery slowly took over, starting with the declassification of Cold War-era Corona satellite imagery in the mid 1990s, and accelerated by DigitalGlobe’s 1999 launch of IKONOS, the first commercially available high-resolution satellite sensor (Lyons, 2012). Very High Resolution (VHR) Imagery became widely used and integrated with other data sources to inform archaeologists about changes to cultural heritage sites. Active sensors use radar and laser scanners to obtain images through clouds and vegetation, and low frequency radar can detect subsurface structures. In 2007, low frequency radar data from a NASA space shuttle was used to detect an ancient subsurface water management system at Angkor Wat (Lasaponara and Masini, 2011).
Figure 3: Satellite image of Damascus, Syria by SPOT Satellite Imagery, commercial geographical imagery company. Source: Wikimedia, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Damascus_SPOT_1363.jpg
As geographical data sets become increasingly abundant, not only from state-funded organizations but also from the private sector (DigitalGlobe launched its sixth satellite in orbit, WorldView-3), earth observation techniques continue to gain potential and garner interest in the preservation and conservation sphere. Technological improvements have increased the spectral and spatial resolution of satellite sensors, allowing archeologists to analyze minute changes in extremely high resolution. Relatively low-cost, user-friendly software facilitates access to and navigation of geographical data sets: QGIS and Geographic Resources Analysis Support System (GRASS) are free, open-source desktop geographical information systems (GIS) that provide tools to manage, view, and analyze geospatial data (Lasaponara and Masini, 2011). Geographical data sets are more accessible, affordable, and abundant than ever before.
Figure 4: Interface of gvSIG, an open-source, desktop geographical information system. Source: Wikimedia, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:GvSIG_-_Geographic_Information_System.jpg
As archaeologists seek new methodologies to incorporate this mass influx of data, computer automation is emerging as a means of processing imagery. Reducing the supervision required to monitor and protect at-risk cultural heritage sites through automation saves both time and money. Automated processes do not prevent damage, but they do enable non-destructive and potentially instantaneous notification in the event of change.
One experimental methodology touts the benefits of applying an automated change-detection algorithm to track changes in at-risk cultural heritage sites (Cerra et. al, 2016). The algorithm sifts through earth observation data creating a change map, a process traditionally executed visually. This methodology was experimentally employed to monitor Palmyra and Nimrud with encouraging results (Cerra et. al, 2016). In June of 2017, ASOR’s Cultural Heritage Initiative proposed an “automation of change detection analysis,” wherein computers scan hundreds of thousands of satellite images, identify changes, and flag images for analysts attention (Danti et. al, 2017). ASOR’s research is used by government agencies, local stakeholders, UNESCO, and other heritage entities to create policies, counter extremism, and support investigations to recover stolen cultural property.
The volume and velocity of data flowing into the archeological field is too great for any one archeologist, or even two or three. In addition to algorithmic automation processes, scientists experimenting with new methodologies call for a multi-source approach to data verification. Once the computer has flagged a change for expert review, proposed methodologies still call for onsite verification. ASOR, for instance, confirms their findings by cross-referencing information from satellite imagery, social media, news outlets, and in-country contacts (Danti et. al, 2017). The algorithmic processes being used and proposed by researchers today may gain nuance and autonomy as machine learning technology advances.
ASOR, funded by the US State Department, uses comparative satellite imagery to track looting, theft, damage, and destruction of cultural heritage sites and objects. In particular, they monitor the severity and scope of looting in Syria. Their collaboration with DigitalGlobe allows them to access constantly updated images using Image Connect, a commercial, cloud-based satellite imagery provider which aggregates high resolution images collected by DigitalGlobe’s WorldView and Geo Eye satellites (Casana, 2015). Since the Syrian civil war began, ASOR has identified looting at 3,000 of over 15,000 cultural heritage sites, an unprecedented expansion in looting history.
Figure 5: Before and after satellite image of destruction to a Syrian Reactor. 2008. Source: Wikimedia, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Syrian_Reactor_Before_After.jpg
Contrary to media reports, ASOR’s research found that looting—not intentional destruction—is the most common cause of damage to cultural heritage sites in Syria (Danti et al., 2017). Illegal excavation followed by military occupation are the leading causes of damage, illuminating the complex dynamics often oversimplified by the media, but which substantially affect at-risk cultural heritage sites (Danti et al., 2017). ASOR found that looting in ISIS-held areas was not more frequent than in other areas of Syria, but it was more severe: 42% of ISIS-held cultural sites were categorized as moderate to severe instances of looting. War seems to have accelerated the rate of looting as compared to previous decades, and the association between the Syrian Regime and severe looting imply that they are involved or at least complicit (Casana, 2015).
Figure 6: https://twitter.com/i/moments/822401029757026305?lang=en
In 2014, the TerraSAR-X Staring Spotlight used Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) to distinguish new looting holes from pre-existing ones in Apamea, Syria (Tapete et al., 2016). This concept model is the first to apply SAR technology—traditionally used to create two or three dimensional images of landscapes— to detect the rate of looting. Previously estimates were made optically, using visual estimates to quantify the volume of looting. In piloting this methodology in Apamea, Syria, researchers found that as of October 2014, approximately 45% of the site was looted. Looting intensified, with 1,500 new looting marks from February to April. These findings were consistent with high resolution satellite imagery from Google Earth (Tapete et al., 2016).
Archeologists around the globe are calling for new methodologies to process and optimize geographical data of cultural heritage sites (Lasaponara, 2011; Tapete et al., 2016; Danti, 2017). The potential of these advancements compels a structural shift within the cultural heritage sector, creating an opportunity to connect cultural professionals, scientists, and archaeologists to optimize the usefulness of aggregate data and empirical findings. In 2011, Rosa Lasaponara and Nicola Masini state in the Journal of Archaeological Science:
The integration of diverse data sources can strongly improve our capacity to uncover unique and invaluable information, from site discovery to studies focused on the dynamics of human frequentation in relation to environmental changes. This strategic integration requires a strong interaction among archaeologists, scientists and cultural heritage managers to improve traditional approaches [to] archaeological investigation, protection and conservation of archaeological heritage.
If geographical data and analysis are accessible and centralized, cultural professionals will be able to utilize mass information to make insightful decisions about education, advocacy, and allocation of resources. The instantaneous monitoring of at-risk cultural heritage has the potential to significantly influence how the cultural heritage sector advocates for the protection of world heritage. Additionally, geographical data represents an intangible attribute of tangible cultural heritage sites, providing the means to educate global stakeholders in real time, or at the very least, through time. Almost instantaneously, geographical data reflects and documents the destruction and degradation of cultural heritage sites as a precise, chronological narrative.
Part III: Reconstruction, photogrammetry, 3D modeling, and printing
As high resolution geospatial imagery is being used to detect and monitor the cultural heritage destruction, photogrammetry, 3D printing, and high resolution laser scans are being used in reconstruction efforts. Reconstructing destroyed or damaged sites, whatever the cause of damage, is highly controversial. On one hand, reconstructed sites and objects can conceivably become globally accessible, and protect degrading or damaged world heritage. On the other hand, there are neither existing systems of accountability nor a set of professional values to guide reconstruction processes. Whether or not to recreate that which has been lost, damaged, or destroyed is a decision that cultural professionals must (and do) make solemnly, with deep consideration for how the project contributes to an expanding definition of cultural heritage. As author Jenny Newell writes, digital reconstruction is “changing the way we uncover, connect with, interpret and represent the past,” shifting society’s perception of culture and cultural value (Newell et al,, 2012). To unequivocally reject reconstruction projects is to commit world heritage to a singular and lonely existence in an analogue world. These tools have the potential to extend the arm of world heritage and welcome new audiences in ways that innovate public perceptions of cultural heritage. The ethical question is not whether or not these tools should be utilized. The question is this: How should they be utilized?
The digitization and reconstruction of three dimensional (3D) cultural heritage sites and objects can be accomplished using several available technologies. Bassel al Safadi Khartabil used many photographs and compiled them to create digital 3D models, a process also known as photogrammetry. 3D printers can then be used to render models into physical three-dimensional replicas. This is a simplified explanation; the caliber, complexity, and variety of technological tools being designed specifically for the digitization and reconstruction of cultural objects are increasing. 3D objects can be digitized two-dimensionally as well as three-dimensionally, a process employed by many visual arts institutions (Johnson, 2016). Physical 3D reconstruction, however, requires 3D digitization and modeling. The most affordable method is photogrammetry, mentioned above. Other methods of digitization include white light scanning, volumetric scanning (using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to detect density and volume), and laser scanning.
Figure 7: Factum Arte Scanning the Pharaonic Tomb of Seti. Source: https://vimeo.com/238533095
Barcelona-based company Factum Arte designed a lightweight 3D scanner, called the Lucida scanner, which operates without 3D data-processing software—it is faster, cheaper, and more efficient than other models, which require two separate systems: one for collecting data, and another for processing. The Lucida scanner has been purchased by major museums undertaking digitization projects (Lowe, 2012). Factum Arte specializes in creating exact facsimiles of cultural heritage objects. One of their best-known projects is a facsimile of King Tutankhamun’s burial chamber in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt. The project took five years to complete. The facsimile replica is housed about one mile away from the original site and used to educate attendees about the degradation caused by mass tourism.
Another digitization project uses a different approach to the protection and reconstruction of damaged cultural heritage. The Institute of Digital Archaeology (IDA), a collaboration between Oxford University, Dubai’s Museum of the Future, and Harvard University, initiated the Million Images Database. It is an open-source database of 2D and 3D images of heritage material. IDA deployed inexpensive 3D cameras throughout the Middle East in an attempt to document cultural heritage before destruction.
In each of these examples there are not only efforts to reconstruct heritage sites and objects, but a motivation to protect and preserve. Factum Arte’s facsimile seeks to reduce tourism to the original King Tutankhamun site by providing an alternative that also educates audiences about the implications of their visit. The Million Images database attempts to protect the legacy of at-risk cultural heritage by ensuring documentation and a life beyond the tangible. This approach to protection and preservation is both contemporary and controversial, and challenges once again the perception of the value of cultural heritage. Specifically, this point of view provokes an age old cultural debate: the value of the original versus the reproduction.
Critics of cultural heritage reconstruction believe the value of the original decreases as accessibility increases. In the words of Walter Benjamin, “the situations into which the product of mechanical reproduction can be brought may not touch the actual work of art, yet the quality of its presence is always depreciated” (Zohn, 1998). In the August 2017 issue of the Journal of Architectural Conservation, Aylin Orbaşli challenges the efficacy of this singular, material-based perspective. His article summarizes and analyzes the evolution of 21st century conservation theory, arguing that established conservation principles are incapable of addressing today’s rapidly shifting attitudes.
He writes that early twentieth century conservation theory prizes “tradition over technology,” and advocates for minimal interventions, labeled and clearly differentiated from original material. The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones is a proponent of this classical theory, and views the recreation of Palmyra’s Arch of Triumph in 2016 as editing or erasing the sanctity of history. Jones wrote the following:
Palmyra was in ruins before Isis occupied it and it is still in ruins today. That is the nature of ancient cities. Mycenae, Machu Picchu, the Roman Forum—none are complete, none pristine. Their atmosphere and poetry lie in their scarring by time, nature and history … What is never legitimate is to rebuild ancient monuments using modern materials to replace lost parts–to essentially refabricate them–even though today’s technology makes that seem practical. (Jones, 2017)
Orbaşli tracks the transformation of conservation theory through the modern and post-modernist movements. He concludes by analyzing the impact of cultural commodification and the emergence of values-based conservation. He observes that the perspective on what constitutes heritage, integrity, and authenticity is changing:
The plurality of the values-based approach aligns with multi-vocality in the acceptance that there will be multiple values associated with or ascribed to a place. As articulated by Araoz: “The core values of heritage are now increasingly deemed to reside in the cultural meanings and values humans invest in monuments and landscapes, not their physical substance.”(Orbaşli, 2017)
As today’s “multi-vocality” influences society’s perception of cultural value, transcending the singular value of the original, Adam Lowe, founder of Factum Arte, questions the existence of an original at all: “An original, you see, is never an original, once it goes through time” (Zalewski, 2016).
Figure 8: WikiMedia, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/21/Palmyra_-_Monumental_Arch.jpg
The reproduction and subsequent global tour of Palmyra’s Arch of Triumph exemplifies the practical application of these morphing theories. ISIS destroyed Palmyra’s Arch of Triumph on October 4, 2015. In December of 2015, the Institute of Digital Archaeology (IDA) announced a project to replicate the Arch and display it in London’s Trafalgar Square for World Heritage Week as a unified symbol of peace and strength in the midst of terror (Gayle, 2015).
During the two months which followed the announcement, IDA used pre-destruction, high resolution images to create a 3D model of Palmyra’s Arch of Triumph (photogrammetry). A computer-guided seven-axis mechanical arm carved the Arch out of Egyptian marble in Carrara, Italy. The ratio of the replica was three to one, cost approximately $150,000, and took approximately four months (Institute for Digital Archaeology, 2016). The replica was presented in Trafalgar Square on April 19, 2016 to an array of press and media attention (Hadingham, 2016; Voon, 2016).
Members of the press, humanitarian activists, and cultural professionals rigorously criticized this reproduction project. The project was fully realized shortly after the Syrian regime re-took Palmyra. Some feared the Bashar al Assad regime would propagandize the reconstruction of Palmyra’s Arch, globally touting the Syrian government’s singular ability to protect Syrian cultural heritage. The Syrian government took care to implicate their success despite being uninvolved with any reconstruction effort (Taylor, 2016). Others believed that this gesture of triumph and peace overshadowed the extreme and ongoing plight of the Syrian people (Taylor, 2016).
Figure 9: Knight, Gary. Replica Palmyra Arch. Photograph. Flickr. April 19, 2016. Accessed September 22, 2017. https://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/26662570660.
In the midst of this scrutiny, Alexy Karenowska, Director of Technology at the Institute of Digital Architecture maintained: “Western intervention can be a very good thing if it comes in concert with close consultation with everybody involved, and it does not become a Western effort but very much a joint effort” (Voon, 2016). From April 2016 to April 2017 the Arch travelled to New York City, Dubai, Florence, and Arona, Italy. The Arch’s final destination will be Palmyra, not on but near the original site.
The lack of professional ethical norms surrounding the reproduction of heritage make examples like this difficult to benchmark. Additionally, the multi-vocal perspectives informing rapidly shifting cultural values are too decentralized and varied to distill into finite ethical norms. The example of Palmyra’s Arch has been viewed from many perspectives, and reveals the diversity of conflicting goals which vary significantly depending on the organization, the country, the storyteller, and a host of other variables.
Cultural professionals must acknowledge the digital technologies being used to redefine the value of tangible cultural heritage. Further, they must scrutinize how these tools are being used, and hasten to understand or at least accept the fluidity and rapidity with which they inform a continually expanding definition of cultural heritage. Through examining this relationship, cultural professionals can begin to establish values capable of adapting to continuous change, and also capitalize upon technologies used outside of their immediate purview.
Through examining the digital technologies impacting at-risk cultural heritage in Syria, it is clear that the professional and societal definition of tangible cultural heritage is transcending the physical realm, and expanding to include intangible, digital attributes. Networked communications platforms such as Twitter, e-mail, and other social media and media sites are vastly contributing to this expanding definition by providing a constant stream of varied information from diverse perspectives. Though these platforms lack hard power, they provide a vast amount of un-aggregated information upon which public perception is formed and participation activated.
The influx of geospatial imagery data invites both redefinition and reorganization of the cultural heritage sector. This reorganization is expanding to include automated computer algorithms and possibly compelling material for educational, advocacy, and digital storytelling initiatives, ensuring a competitive position in a progressively technologically-focused world. Further, geospatial imagery, photogrammetry, 3D printing, and laser scanners can be used to reintroduce the tangibility of digital intangible assets, confounding the definition of cultural heritage but also introducing opportunities for unprecedented accessibility.
These technologies are creating vast and powerful changes within the cultural sector. If we ignore them, cultural professionals risk inaccessibility, losing relevance in an increasingly digital world, and permanently losing the physical attributes of tangible cultural heritage due to war, climate change, and mass tourism. If we embrace digital technologies too wholeheartedly, cultural professionals risk over-commodifying an already commodified experience, and cheapening the value and importance of cultural heritage. Thus, experts must strive to understand and capitalize upon these technologies, even if they exist beyond their immediate scope of application, while maintaining the utmost care and scrutiny. By doing so, cultural professionals can begin to reshape the definition of cultural value into something that is adaptable, transcendent, and imbued with integrity, authenticity, and heritage.
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