“Open Heritage” features digitized, 3D models of over 25 locations from around the world, signaling the start of a major chapter for the field o
Over the last seven years, Google’s Arts & Culture platform has offered web users a growing library of digitized artworks, photographed with unparalleled, high-resolution. While it has long partnered with museums to make these images accessible, the tech company has now begun a more ambitious project, collaborating with digital archaeologists to spotlight heritage sites threatened by natural disasters, war, tourism, or urbanization.
Its latest online collection, “Open Heritage,” features digitized, 3D models of over 25 locations from around the world, from the ancient Mayan metropolis of Chichen Itza in Mexico to the protected Watangi Treaty Grounds in New Zealand. Each was created by CyArk, a nonprofit that has been engineering incredibly detailed 3D versions of heritage sites since 2003 with the intention of archiving and freely sharing the results with the public.
Making available these technically astounding models to raise awareness of at-risk sites is a noble idea, but some scholars are hesitant to praise this mission. Archaeologist (and Hyperallergic contributor) Michael Press expressed concerns about how the project is packaged, particularly about the language used in promotional material that purports to speak for a universal experience.
“The need to preserve as much as we can of the past and the very idea of shared or global or universal heritage are not universal, but recent developments in the West in particular,” Press told Hyperallergic. “Projects like this may seem innocent, but I don’t think we think nearly carefully enough about the implications.”
A press release [Hyperallergic] received exemplified this thoughtless marketing with its subject line: “Google teams up to preserve the world’s ancient sites (think Indiana Jones!).” Lest we forget, the fictional professor was not the most ethical man; on the contrary, he was a looter, less concerned with preserving locations he visited than raiding them for their treasures.