Reconstructing the Past

Developing software to document historic structures today, enabling digital reconstruction and dissemination of VR models.

Developing software which documents a historic structure as it stands today, enabling fast and accurate digital reconstruction and facilitating global dissemination of virtual reality models.

  • Project Director

  • Rebecca K. Napolitano
  • Project Manager

  • Rebecca K. Napolitano
  • Technical Lead

  • Benjamin Hicks
  • Additional Technical Lead

  • Rebecca K. Napolitano
  • Graduate Research Assistant

  • Hannah Smagh
  • Undergraduate Research Assistant

  • Rachel Coe-Scharff
  • Sophia Feist
  • Solmaz Jumakuliyeva
  • Grace Sommers

The overarching objective of this project is to create a free, easy-to-use program to facilitate fast yet accurate reconstructions of cultural heritage sites around the world. Currently such a program does not exist and this work has the potential to radically transform how cultural heritage is protected and appreciated. This research will provide an efficient workflow for bringing invaluable cultural heritage from remote sites accessible only to a select few scholars to a global audience via 3D virtual reality models on the web. These advancements come at a time when historic structures are faced with unprecedented environmental and anthropogenic destruction as well as at a time when destroying history is now being charged as a war crime. Critical steps need to be carried out immediately across disciplines in order to ensure the safeguarding of the world’s heritage sites.

Through this project we want to incorporate 3D documentation of what is currently on a cultural heritage site, digital reconstruction throughout the lifetime of the building, as well as global dissemination of these documented and reconstructed 3D models. A major component of what we are working with CDH to do is create a database of construction materials for heritage sites. We have chosen to focus on timber construction for Roman works as the starting point of our database and will expand from there to include other places, materials, and time periods. We are working to have this database include primary textual evidence, such as Vitruvius, Pliny and other authors, describing the materials, archaeological sites where this material has been found, as well as a listing of the mechanical properties. Since this materials database is our first step towards creating a program which can enable fast and accurate reconstructions of heritage sites, understanding the material properties is critical to any accurate reconstruction.

Due to natural disasters, improper conservation, abuse, and other reasons, cultural heritage structures are constantly at risk. However for the first time this past September, the destruction of cultural sites has led to a war crime conviction illustrating that preserving historic sites is a global goal. The United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, has stated that “Deliberate attacks on culture have become weapons of war in a global strategy of cultural cleansing seeking to destroy people as well as the monuments bearing their identities, institutions of knowledge, and free thought.” In order to best preserve sites of cultural heritage and bring them into the global consciousness, thorough documentation and high accessibility to digitized sites is imperative; by the success of our project, cultural heritage may be saved in the best possible form for research, reconstruction, and future generations.