3D Printers Could Save ISIS-destroyed Treasures, Archaeologists Believe

Institute of Digital Archaeology announces $3.1 million project aimed at flooding Middle East with 3D cameras and cataloging items endangered by jihadist militants.

An image grab taken from a video made available by Jihadist media outlet Welayat Homs
An image grab taken from a video made available by Jihadist media outlet Welayat Homs on July 4, 2015, in the ancient amphitheater in the city of Palmyra. AFP

A team of archaeologists from the Oxford-based Institute of Digital Archaeology have launched a project aimed at preserving Middle Eastern historical sites at risk from jihadist militants based largely on 3D printing.

According a report from British daily The Times, experts behind the $3.1 million project hope to "flood the Middle East with 3D cameras" and catelogue every threatened item, including but not limited to artifacts, buildings and monuments.

The archaeologists believe they can recreate and reconstruct items  destroyed by militants with the high-tech yet relatively new printing technology.

The project would rely on local volunteers based in Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, Yemen and eastern Turkey to take photographs and upload them to a database, where owners of 3D printers worldwide would volunteer to help reconstruct the catalogued items.

Earlier Sunday, satellite images confirmed the destruction of a Roman-era Baal Shamin temple in the Syrian city of Palmyra after ISIS claimed responsibility for blowing up the structure a week ago.

The group seized the desert city of Palmyra in May from government forces but initially left its historical sites unharmed.

"Palmyra is rapidly becoming the symbol of ISIS' cultural iconoclasm," Roger Michel, the institute's director, reportedly said. "If ISIS is permitted to wipe the slate clean and rewrite the history of a region that defined global aesthetic and political sensibilities, we will collectively suffer a costly and irreversible defeat."

"But there is hope," Michel added. "By placing the record of our past in the digital realm, it will lie forever beyond the reach of vandals and terrorists."

Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq are engaged in the "most brutal, systematic" destruction of ancient sites since World War II, UNESCO chief Irina Bokova said in the past.

Last week, the FBI urged art dealers in the United States to be careful when buying antiquities from the Middle East, saying there is evidence collectors have recently been offered artifacts plundered by Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq.