By 2050, a great amount of historical monuments are at risk of no longer being accessible or even destroyed. To blame: damages linked to Global Warming, linked to time, but also to the pillaging and destruction of archaeological sites as a result of conflicts and terrorism. By digitally preserving World Heritage sites and vestiges, virtual and augmented realities (VR/AR) could be the way in which we showcase our heritage eternally.

Open Heritage

With the unveiling of the Open Heritage project by Google in April 2018, the company committed itself to the preservation of the most endangered monuments on the planet. Thanks to CyArk, an organisation with non-monetary goals who work for the preservation of historical and cultural sites, you can now consult 27 symbolic sites in 3D. Some of these sites, like the Bagan temples in Myanmar, can even be consulted in virtual reality.

Thanks to lidar sensors and advanced 3D technology, endangered sites like Mount Rushmore in the U.S., or Chichèn Itzá in Mexico have been completely reproduced in full detail. Antique sites like ancient Corinth have also been digitally reconstructed. With this project, Google and CyArk hope to keep a long-term presence of all these sites and hope to raise awareness in regards to their preservation.

The Rosetta Stone

In September 2017, the Quartz app was endowed with a new augmented reality (AR) function. Thanks to the new AR function, it is now possible to conjure up objects in front of you, circle around them and to generally be able to observe them with infinite precision. Quartz’ Bot Studio Director John Keefe explains that this AR functionality will serve to “enrich the stories we tell, and will show users objects they would have never seen otherwise”.

Among the objects created thus by Quartz we can find historical monuments and ruins, such as the Rosetta Stone or the Berlin Wall, which now appear larger than life to Quartz’ users. In this manner, Quartz offers a fun and interactive visual experience all the while allowing us to discover historical sites and mythical objects. Keefe explains that “people understand things much better once they can handle and interact with those things”.

Recreating Humanity’s History

Encouraged by the growth of virtual reality, many companies are working to develop technologies capable of reconstituting lost or partially destroyed historical sites. Counted among these companies is the Australian start-up Lithodomos VR, who aims to recreate our past in an immersive and educational way. Apart from the entertaining aspect of its technologies, Lithodomos wants to give teachers and school institutions access to it, so that they can ensure learning becomes more immersive and interactive. With that in mind, the start-up has already developed two apps: Ancient World in VR allows you to visit reconstructed monuments like The Temple of Venus and Roma in Rome or Odeon of Agrippa in Athens.On the other hand, just like its name suggests, Ancient Jerusalem in VR allows you to visit the holy city as it existed 2000 years ago.

VR at the Museum

Around the world, more and more museums have also decided to launch themselves into the development of virtual reality technologies. The British Museum was one of the firsts to propose this innovation. In 2015, London-based museum collaborated with Soluis Heritage to digitalise objects from the Stone Age and materialised them through virtual reality. In this manner, visitors can handled these fragile vestiges of our past, and can even try on one of the jewels on display.

In December of 2017, the Paris Museum of Natural History became one of the first in the world to set up a permanent virtual reality room. Located in the gallery of Evolution, it allows you to explore and reconstruct the Life History, and notably offers the possibility to see species that are extinct.

Genuinely saving monuments

Apart from their fun and educational aspects, these technologies present another major advantage: they can help archaeologists proceed with restoration projects. CyArk, the company responsible for the creation of Open Heritage, is also working on historical monument preservation since 2013 thanks to 3D models. An article published on Gizmodo explains “On one hand CyArk offers the archive of a historical site in the same state as when it was captured, and on the other hand, it also gives historians and ecologists the chance to reconstruct something that once was.” Certain 3D models, which are able to attain a never before seen level of precision, can therefore allow scientists to identify and target the most damaged areas of certain historical sites.