The Technology of Heritage Conservation

When you’re working with Heritage sites, technology is your best friend and one of your worst enemies at the same time. On one hand, the digital technologies that we’ve been using during Saving the Stones allow us to do work in minutes that would have taken hours twenty years ago. On the other hand, the march of progress and development threatens countless sites worldwide, including in Israel.

Tri-lingual keyboard - a microcosm of many layers of influences that affect cultural heritage in Israel.

Tri-lingual keyboard – a microcosm of many layers of influences that affect cultural heritage in Israel.

Digital photography and image-editing software (such as Adobe Creative Suite) speeds up the essential process of documentation. Documentation must take place to some degree at every stage of the conservation project:

  1. Overview and walk-around to get acquainted with the project.
  2. Intensive documentation to record the project’s current stage.
  3. Documentation of intervention strategies so that they can be recorded and replicated.
  4. Before & after photos.
  5. Regular photographic monitoring to detect changes in the project, for figuring out when additional intervention is needed.

Using Photoshop, we can stitch our images together, and rectify photos. Rectification involves changing the apparent perspective of a photo so that it appears to be taken head-on to the subject, rather than at an angle. This is useful when ideal angles for photographing a subject cannot otherwise be achieved. Images are usually stitched (or merged) together after rectification. These images can be used in a variety of ways, although the most common are reference photos in reports or as textures to be placed upon 3D models of our project.

3d model created based on architectural documentation to assist in the conservation process

3D model created based on architectural documentation to assist in the conservation process

3D modeling is also a useful demonstrative and planning tool. Our group uses Trimble SketchUp 3d; it’s powerful and free. (Sensing a pattern yet?) I  seem to have a knack for this program – I made a fairly accurate scale model of my project area (a small hammam at the International Conservation Center) within two hours of first opening the program.  Check out a model by former intern, Alison, that she developed in the documentation of the wall fountain of al-Jazzar Mosque.  Click to image to view the model in 3D or download it, at the SketchUp Warehouse.

Adobe InDesign allows us to put all this useful data together into professionally styled reports in a manner far more sophisticated than that used by Microsoft Word and OpenOffice Writer, my previously-preferred writing software.

On the other hand, we spend a lot of time protecting cultural heritage from many of the signs of Israel’s industrious society. For example, our first experience in the field was with mortaring the joints of an Ottoman-era aqueduct. When we returned to the site several days later, a construction crew had begun to dismantle a section of the aqueduct that had been recently repaired. This destruction had been done in order to construct a roundabout for increased traffic flow into the area. As anyone with common sense knows, the exhaust and vibration from cars can be very damaging to historic structures over time. This means more work for people like us… although we already have our hands full of built heritage here in Israel…

Learning mortar conservation methods from conservator David Zell, at the Ottoman aqueduct that runs 15km from the spring of Kabri to Old Acre

Learning mortar conservation methods from conservator David Zell, at the Ottoman aqueduct that runs 15km from the spring of Kabri to Old Acre

Applying our knowledge in historic mortars, by re-pointing the stones of the Ottoman aqueduct.

Applying our knowledge in historic mortars, by re-pointing the stones of the Ottoman aqueduct

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