Monday 27 April 2015

Virtual restoration of Mosul Museum to help track looted items

An EU-led initiative plans to virtually restore the artefacts damaged by ISIS at Iraq’s Mosul Museum. Using crowd-sourced images to recreate lost and destroyed items, researchers hope that these 3D ‘virtual museums’ will aid efforts to identify and track down looted items.

Project Mosul is a collaborative effort between researchers from the ITN-DCH (Initial Training Network for Digital Cultural Heritage: Projecting our Past to the Future), EUROPEANA SPACE and 4D-CH-WORLD projects. The project was launched two weeks after a video was released on Youtube showing the sacking of Iraq’s 300-year old Mosul Museum by Islamic State. Extremists filmed themselves using sledgehammers to destroy a series of ancient sculptures - some almost 3,000 years old and dating from the Assyrian Empire.

Screen shot of the video released by Islamic State (Image: YouTube)
The project website reads: “We assume that much of the museum's contents were looted, and anything small enough to be easily removed will be appearing soon on the antiquities market. Anything too large to remove for sale, appears to have met a violent end at the hand of ISIS extremists. In both cases, it is possible to virtually recreate the lost items through the application of photogrammetry and crowdsourcing. Given enough photographs, digital or scans of analogues, it is possible to reconstruct the artefacts and create digital surrogates of those artefacts. This provides two immediate benefits: helping to identify looted items and recreating destroyed items.”

Importantly, the project team also points out the importance of keeping the memory of these objects and their meaning alive, rather than seeing virtual reconstruction as an end in itself. For communities faced with loss of their cultural heritage, this project will provide a tool to preserve, disseminate and re-engage with their history.

However, the Mosul Museum has been closed since the outbreak of the Iraq war in 2003, meaning that relevant images can prove very difficult to locate. Pictures of the destroyed museum objects, including Assyrian and Hatrene artefacts, will be retrieved from Open Access repositories of FLICKR and PICASA, the EU digital library Europeana and anyone else willing to contribute images of their own. These 3D reconstructions will then be presented in an online museum where the data will be freely accessible to the public. 

Reconstruction of lion statue destroyed by the Islamic State
(Image: ingg/Sketchfab)
The team is calling on volunteers to help them with a variety of tasks: finding photos, processing data, contributing to the website and generally helping out with organising the effort to identify the museum artefacts.
To get involved, visit the Project Mosul website:

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