The physical record of human history is in constant peril. Factors both manmade and natural are at odds with the preservation of artifacts that tell the story of civilization. Tropical humidity, armed conflict, mining, sea level rise, earthquakes, and even sunlight are just a few of the threats facing important sites around the globe.
A groundbreaking new initiative at the USF Libraries called the Digital Heritage and Humanities Collections (DHHC) seeks to preserve some of these imperiled objects, sites, and landscapes in cutting-edge digital collections and make them freely accessible to the world.
Two highly-regarded researchers, Drs. Lori Collins and Travis Doering, have joined the USF Libraries faculty in a move designed to maximize the research value and utility of their renowned cultural heritage preservation work. Collins and Doering bring a decade of experience in 3D archaeology to provide a cutting-edge boost to the longstanding digital collections on offer by the USF Libraries. Their expertise is in creating the kind of high-quality preservation materials often associated with top museums and, occasionally, government entities. A key difference here is that these outputs are made available as open data for exploration and manipulation by students, researchers, and the public.
A year-long project documenting the Haghpat Monastery complex in Armenia, a UNESCO World Heritage site, began with two weeks on location. Using drones, the team captured aerial photography and a ‘point cloud’ of physical coordinates as well as ground-level, high-resolution imagery of artifacts and architectural details. When combined with GIS (geospatial/global mapping) data, these assets create a robust collection valuable to scholars in a vast range of disciplines.
In the Americas, there is a race against time to preserve another UNESCO World Heritage site — the Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua, a former Mayan royal residence and administrative center in southeastern Guatemala. Humidity, mold, the relentless creep of jungle vegetation, and common vandalism are some of the threats to these monuments. The DHHC team visits the site to digitally image and, in some cases digitally reconstruct, features of the site.
Collins and Doering have worked extensively in Guatemala, documenting museum collections and archaeological sites, and this work will provide collection materials that include 3D models and images of hundreds of fragile carved stone monuments and architectural features from the country.
The USF Tampa Library offers an ideal location and learning climate in which to house these efforts. In addition to the eye-opening visualization outputs that result from this work, a relationship with the library’s Digital Media Commons (DMC) will allow students to explore object scanning and 3D printing technology at dedicated workstations, learning marketable, cutting-edge technologies.
Under the leadership of Drs. Collins and Doering, the DHHC team currently includes Jorge Gonzalez, who contributes extensive imaging expertise and 3D modeling skills to the USF Libraries; Garrett Speed, a graduate of the USF Geography program, works in areas of 3D mapping and survey, GIS, and photographic documentation. Speed will also work with the DMC to bring the technology to the wider student and faculty audience. USF Libraries GIS specialist Richard McKenzie is also working with the DHHC, providing the technical aspects of cartography and analyses, and continuing outreach and consultation on research projects with graduate students and faculty.
The USF Libraries are redefining what libraries can offer the world. To support efforts like these, consider making a gift to the USF Tampa Library. Contact the USF Libraries Office of Development at 813-974-4433 to discuss your contribution.