Announcing the CyArk Advisory Council

Which sites do we save, and how do we decide?

by Tom Greaves
April 30, 2013
Our mission at CyArk is to digitally preserve cultural heritage sites using advanced 3D imaging tools. Our purpose is to make the information we collect available in perpetuity for both education and conservation purposes. We all know that there is neither enough money nor enough time to physically conserve every site important to humanity, but how do we decide what to preserve digitally?

At CyArk we’ve thought long and hard about the competing priorities involved in determining which sites to preserve. Fortunately we don’t act alone. CyArk recently convened a group of experts--the CyArk Advisory Council, chaired by current ICOMOS International president Gustavo Araoz--to help guide these decisions. Advisory Council members include Sheridan Burke, Godden Mackay Logan; Bonnie Burnham, World Monuments Fund; Christina Cameron, Canada Research Chair on Built Heritage; Rohit Jigyasu, Ritsumeikan University; David Mitchell, Historic Scotland; Nelly Robles, El Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH); Edward Impey, English Heritage and Patrick Martin, Michigan Tech University.

Eight principles guide CyArk’s current site selection process. (Please note that the eight principles described below are preliminary and are not intended to represent the views of our Advisory Council nor the individual members.) We will be refining and developing these principles in the coming months with the Council's assistance.

(1) Is the site culturally significant and representative? Determining the significance of a heritage site is not easy. It is part science but we’re not measuring the speed of light or the gravitational constant. Judgment is inevitable and controversy is unavoidable. In making these difficult calculations, we rely on the sound and considered opinions of wise people. Our recently established CyArk Advisory Council chaired by Gutavo Araoz will shepherd the site selection process.

(2) Is the site at risk from human aggression or environmental danger? Some sites are in imminent danger of destruction from acts of war. We need look no further than the destruction of the eleventh century Aleppo minaret in Syria last week for an example. Other sites are threatened by rising sea levels or earthquakes. Our work includes developing a risk scale for sites of interest.

(3) Does our digital preservation method provide unique and compelling value to the site and what are the circumstances under which digital documentation will be beneficial? Here we ask questions about the appropriate use of our digital methods. Is the data we collect truly useful for education and conservation purposes? How sustainable is this effort?

(4) Is the site owner/manager agreeable to digital documentation by CyArk? We can’t begin to execute our mission without the full cooperation of the site owners and managers.

(5) Are there identifiable resources including sources of funding for digital preservation? A hard truth of non-profits is that good ideas are toxic unless they’re closely connected to resources. We seek out sites where there are sufficient resources for the documentation team to travel and do its work as well as funding for processing the data into useful deliverables and archiving the data in perpetuity.

(6) Does the site represent a geographical region, cultural context, heritage category or historic period that is not now well represented in the CyArk archive? We aim to deploy our scarce resources on sites where we have not previously been active.

(7) Will digital preservation of the site stimulate the use of the technology for other sites in the region, or for similar sites elsewhere?

(8) Does the site contribute to the socioeconomic well being of local and stakeholder communities?

CyArk has many well-known large-scale heritage sites in our archive, but what about the application of the eight principals to lesser-known places? Must we limit our efforts to the marquee sites and structures? Certainly not. CyArk sees high value in supporting these vernacular heritage projects and we seek out this work. I’ve come to appreciate that the passion to support a cultural heritage site is often community-based. Knowledge of a site and its history can be quite localized. CyArk’s appreciation of vernacular sites works for me--my ancestors didn’t live in Edinburgh Palace; they were peasants in the fields miles away.
International heritage sites archived by CyArk