How drones may help rebuild monuments destroyed in Syria

A French startup is using drones paired with 3D technology to recreate digital representations of monuments destroyed during the war in Syria.

The group, called Iconem, have been operating since 2013 and specialize in the digitization of endangered cultural heritage sites in 3D. These digital representations are not only a way of preserving sites that are lost but can be used as a basis for rebuilding the monuments once there is sufficient peace in the region to do so.

Syria’s civil war began in 2011 between the Assad-led government and multi anti-government, rebel groups. Now in it’s eighth year, the conflict has killed somewhere between 350,000 and 500,000 people. It has also displaced millions of Syrians, obliterated many parts of the country and permanently changed the lives of most Syrians. Along with the horrific human misery caused by this war, many world heritage sites have been destroyed either by ISIS or during clashes between rebel groups and the government.

Before and after: the Great Mosque of Aleppo is one of many monuments destroyed in Syria’s civil war

A photo of the obliteration wrought on Syria in the Northern town of Kobani. Credit: Bulent Kilic/Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

How does it work?

The team of digital archaeologists led by UNESCO fly their drones over historical sites that are either under threat or have already been partially or completely destroyed. They then take hundreds of thousands of digital images Next, their algorithms combine process the photographs to produce the 3D reconstructions of the sites and refer to source material of the monuments before they were destroyed. Even in cases where monuments have only fragments left from their original glory, Iconem have been able to create stunning digital reconstructions.

Left, the current state of a destroyed monument in Syria. Right, the digital recreation enabled by Iconem

Aside from their work and Syria, Iconem is also working together with UNESCO on a project in Iraq called: ‘Revive the Spirit of Mosul.” Mosul is another city ravaged by war that have lost many of their historical sites.

Iconem are even working with French video game company, Ubisoft on an immersive virtual reality experience which allows consumers to explore the digital reconstructions.

We only hope the important work Iconem is doing will eventually lead to a reconstruction of the sites that were so senselessly destroyed.



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