Should we 3D print a new Palmyra?
|Cultural terrorism [Credit: Humam Alsalim and Rami Bakhos]|
Now the city has been recaptured, the first damage assessments are underway, and Syrian – and international – attention is already turning to restoration. This work will be greatly aided by the Syrians who risked their lives to transport the contents of the Palmyra museum to safety. The last truck pulled out as IS arrived, with bullets whizzing past.
Even as they were displaced, Syrians have worked to keep a detailed memory of the city alive. Syrian artists created artworks depicting the destruction. In a Jordanian camp, refugees made miniature models of the city and other cultural sites, even measuring out the number and position of Palmyra’s columns from photographs.
|Manar Monumental Arch, destroyed by IS in 2015 [Credit: Judith McKenzie/|
Manar al-Athar April 13 2010]
Others have gone even further. The Million Image Database Project at the Oxford Institute for Digital Archaeology distributed cameras to volunteers across the Middle East to collect 3D photos of sites. As well as creating 3D models, they will recreate full-scale artefacts, sites, and architectural features using their own cement-based 3D printing techniques. This will start with a recreation of the arch from Palmyra’s Temple of Bel, due to be unveiled in London in April 2016.
Ethics of restoration
As well as being used for research, education and enjoyment, this technology could recreate (and perhaps ultimately restore) what IS has destroyed. 3D printing can be done in any colour of shapeable material, and can be as obvious – or as unobtrusive – as desired. The group is also exploring using computer-guided tools to quickly carve their models into stone.
|Preserving the memory [Credit: UNHCR/Christopher Herwig]|
But many argue that 3D printing fails to capture the authenticity of the original structures, amounting to little more than the Disneyfication of heritage. They also point out that the fighting is still ongoing: 370,000 Syrians are dead, millions are displaced, and perhaps 50%-70% of the nearby town has been destroyed. Given the pressing humanitarian needs, stabilisation alone should be the priority for now.
Rebuilding also fails to redress the loss caused by the extensive looting of the site, focusing only on the dramatically destroyed monuments. Perhaps most importantly, its worth asking whether returning Palmyra exactly to its pre-conflict state denies a major chapter of its history? There needs to be a wide-ranging discussion on the priorities for the immediate future and the nature of any future reconstruction.
|Temple of Baalshamin, destroyed by IS in August 2015 [Credit: Judith McKenzie/|
Manar al-Athar. April 13 2010]
One thing is clear: while Palmyra may hold great significance to the world, the final decision should belong to those who have lived alongside it, cared for it, managed it, fought for it, and protected it for generations: the Syrian people.
Author: Emma Cunliffe, University Of Oxford | Source: The Conversation [March 31, 2016]