Professor Heinz Ruther steers the project. He ventures up and down the continent — visiting Ghana, Tanzania, Mali, Ethiopia, Kenya and elsewhere — recording in remarkable detail the structure and condition of tombs, churches and other buildings.
“I’ve seen how sites are deteriorating visibly,” Ruther told CNN.
The project’s been running for 10 years and the team have digitally archived locations in all corners of the continent. Its mission is a worthy one: to preserve sites for future generations.
Each site can take the team months to document. They travel to unsafe, hostile regions with high-tech laser scanners and drones. “(People) are suspicious as they think it is for military use,” Ruther says.
To record the archaeological structures, they position the scanner at various angles around the building, sending a laser which records around 10,000 points per second.
“We use GPS measurements and try to cover every single aspect of the sites, that is every single corner. We go to areas which are not very attractive — we cover everything,” Ruther explains.
Back at the university they collate all the spatial data to create the finished product, which can be experienced in virtual reality.
3-D preservation of history
World heritage sites have not only been mapped in 3-D, but also built using 3-D printers.
The project was undertaken by Oxford’s Institute of Digital Archaeology, created to express solidarity with Syrians and the effort to preserve archaeological sites under threat.
The future of the past
There is a perennial threat to heritage sites from human activity and nature.
“A slow deterioration (can happen) as vegetation grows over the side (of buildings). People also use the stones of the buildings to build their houses. It’s a wide range of things, including terrorism,” Ruther tells CNN.
While efforts increase to bring recognition to African heritage, safeguarding this past could depend on high-tech methods used by Ruther and his team.