It is easy to forget that tangible heritage sites, notably buildings, monuments etc are extremely vulnerable. They are vulnerable to environmental factors like climate change and natural disasters. They are vulnerable to the exposure of too many tourists and overwhelming populations. They are also vulnerable to wars and terrorist attacks. The case of Syria is particularly relevant nowadays: how many cultural heritage sites have become victims of the conflict? Our historical and cultural sources can be so quickly and devastatingly obliterated.

Ben Kacyra’s Ted Talk addresses this very subject of the threats to tangible heritage sites:

“We’re fighting a losing battle, we’re losing our sites…we’re losing a piece-a significant piece-of our collective memory”

-Ben Kacyra

So what then can be done to counteract this, if anything? Ben Kacyra points to a new term which he dubs ‘Digital Heritage Preservation’. This innovative term was completely new to me but as is demonstrated in Kacyra’s talk, it is essentially digitally scanning sources of tangible heritage (monuments, statues etc) so they are preserved in an electronic database. In such a manner, allowing such sites to be studied and appreciated after they are gone.

However, this seems to be something of a race against time. Kacyra gives the example of the ‘Royal Kasubi Tombs’ in Uganda which was successfully archived by his team using this new technology. The tombs, however, later became victim to an arson attack. It is therefore merciful that the site was digitally preserved when it was.

Kacyra’s talk is fascinating and has highlighted to me the importance of archiving. Kacyra and others like him are clearly desperate to save what they can, exemplified by his ambitious ‘CyArk 500 challenge’: aiming to digitally preserve 500 World Heritage sites in 5 years.
Although what is lost is lost, for example the ‘Bamiyan Buddhas’ of Afghanistan destroyed by the Taliban will never be seen again, digital heritage preservation provides much needed hope that our heritage sites will, in digital ghost form, continue to survive.

Have a look at Kacyra’s talk here: