Ordinary holiday photos could help archaeologists in their fight to preserve the legacy of historic sites across the world. At the British Science Festival, researchers from several leading universities have launched a call for digital photographs of historic sites under threat in order to produce virtual models for posterity.

The ‘Curious Travellers’ project is led by Dr Andrew Wilson from the University of Bradford, which is renowned for research in the field of archaeology. Dr Wilson and his team of researchers are joined by computer scientists from the University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC) and remote sensing specialists from the University of St Andrews. Together, they will use digital photographs to recreate 3D models of monuments and ancient sites that are threatened by conflict, vandalism, neglect, and natural disaster.

The project has been praised by the Universities and Science Minister, Jo Johnson, who said: “Destruction of our world’s monuments is a deliberate attempt to undermine a community’s cultural identity. Thanks to the UK’s technological advances, our holiday pictures could now help rebuild and preserve these great ancient sites for future generations.”

Photographs will be gathered through two methods. Researchers will mine the web and social media using dig data methodology in order to capture the wealth of images already in the online space. The second method relies on the general public uploading their own photos to the project website.

Dr Wilson said the contribution of the public is vital to the project and that monuments of local importance were as of much interest as those with a global historical significance. He used the example of a recent fire at the grade II listed mill, Drummonds, in Bradford to illustrate that it is not only heritage sites in war-torn parts of the world that can be taken suddenly from communities.

“It could be here in the UK…It could be in far corners of the world. It’s really taking this rapid response approach to where the need is felt most,” he said.

Although the hope is to gain visual access to some of the more remote historical sites, Dr Wilson also stressed that the project is in no way asking people to put themselves at risk by travelling to locations under threat.

“We are not talking about putting people on the ground and in danger. What we’re talking about is that legacy of material already present in travel blogs, in personal archives, in specialist travel done by colleagues…and I’ve received images already from a number of archaeologists who have worked previously in places like Syria.”

Dr Wilson also mentioned the importance of preparing and safeguarding all national heritage. In addition to building this important online resource, the project hopes to bring about greater community awareness of these issues on a transnational, transcultural scale.
Photographs can now be uploaded to the project’s website.

Dr Rowenna Baldwin is a Manchester Metropolitan University Media Fellow. She is a Senior Research Assistant at the MMU Policy Evaluation and Research Unit.

Image credit: Nell Howard