This post originally appeared on the Cultural Security Blog.
The evolution of wartime threats to cultural property is increasingly driving concern for cultural security. Archaeological sites are looted both for money and to erase cultural heritage, and fundamentalist groups are targeting ancient sites as a means of gaining global attention. That so much of physical history has been destroyed is unacceptable; and sadly many sites are either protected only by fences and/or guards, or by nothing at all. 2016 saw new innovative solutions and an increasingly united front for protecting world heritage. This past year also marked the first International Criminal Court’s trial for destruction of cultural monuments. A stronger front with more involvement plus stricter enforcement of protective regulations needs to be top of mind in 2017. And one innovative area where there can be leaps and bounds is in technology.
Dr. Sarah H. Parcak, who won the 2016 TED $1M prize for her work in satellite archaeology, broadcast the importance of using technology to discover and protect ancient sites. Her work as a pioneering satellite archaeologist involves evaluating satellite imagery types and using remote sensing analysis techniques specific to the discovery, preservation, and management of archaeological sites. The TED prize money is funding Dr. Parcak’s innovative project Global Xplorer, a citizen science platform that will enlist a global community and enable anyone with internet access to discover sites using satellite technology. The platform, set to launch imminently, will also be a forum for conversation around new sites found, existing sites being protected/in need of protection, and the future of technology in archaeology.
Parcak’s achievements emphasize the important role technology can, and should, play in the preservation of cultural property. The drone has become a new instrument in the archaeologist’s “Tool Kit.” Xianyang City is a prime example of a city taking the initiative to employ an advanced surveillance system with its launch of a cultural relics security prevention and control system (described in further detail below) that will be more effective in promoting cultural relics supervision and combat cultural relics crime work.
High tech surveillance systems are essential in first-line defense of cultural relics. Drones facilitate aerial survey by providing bird’s-eye views of sites, can be used for thermal-imaging to detect walls buried beneath the earth, and even can be be used as guards against looting. Satellite archaeology could aid in locating innumerable undiscovered archaeological sites–and knowing the locations of these sites is the first step to protecting them. And the creation of such an innovative platform as Global Xplorer–a cross-over of Indiana Jones and Google Earth–presents numerous implications for global involvement in cultural security. 2017 has the potential to be a year of extreme advancements in technology that can–and should–be applied to the protection of cultural property.