Cyber-archaeology is the marriage of archaeology, computer science, engineering, and the natural sciences, and it offers 21st century solutions to safeguard the past for future generations. This web portal is the primary Internet vehicle for communicating with the public and researchers worldwide about At-Risk World Heritage and the Digital Humanities, a cyber-archaeology project awarded a $1.06 million, two-year UC President’s Research Catalyst Award from the University of California (UC) Office of the President to a consortium of archaeologists and information technologists on four UC campuses: UC San Diego, UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC Merced.

The Catalyst project is based in the newly-created UC San Diego Center for Cyber-Archaeology and Sustainability (CCAS), a partnership between the Division of Social Sciences and the Qualcomm Institute. CCAS explores new digital approaches to research, conservation and teaching for world cultural heritage through development of innovative data capture, curation, analysis, and dissemination over the Internet and through scientific visualization facilities. Student-oriented and research-focused, CCAS aims to engage with organizations conducting cultural heritage research around the world to study the relationship between human behavior, material culture, and the environment along deep-time trajectories.

Catalyst for Conservation

Faculty members involved in the Catalyst project have active research sites in a number of eastern Mediterranean countries, many of them threatened by political conflicts and environmental degradation. These include Cyprus, Egypt, Ethiopia, Greece, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, and Turkey. This multi-campus digital heritage project will make the UC system a model for world cultural heritage conservation by doing what other research institutions around the world cannot do. The Catalyst project will:

  • Take advantage of the Pacific Research Platform (PRP), one of the highest-speed fiber optic networks in the world;
  • Meld state-of-the-art 3D scientific visualization with top-end immersive platforms for museums and public places in addition to serving inexpensive personal virtual-reality devices;
  • Confront the problem of ‘Big Cultural Heritage Data’ (BCHD), its movement and curation;
  • Develop citizen-science crowdsourcing programs using a unique opportunity to access high-resolution satellite imagery from Digital Globe to monitor and model endangered archaeological sites and their environments;
  • Provide unique learning opportunities to prepare UC students to use new information-technology tools to enhance their career paths; and
  • Demonstrate how this network-based integrated digital cultural heritage system is applicable to underfunded California, national and international universities and research institutions.

To enhance the dissemination of data concerning endangered cultural heritage sites, new immersive 3D visualization ‘kiosks’ will be built for the four campuses and placed in library and museum settings. Linked together via the high-performance PRP, the kiosks will allow large numbers of students, faculty and the public to view and interact with virtual cultural heritage objects and places.

The four campus research teams will have access to Digital Globe’s Global Basemap (GBM), a current high-resolution base map for the planet. This resource enables a unique opportunity to address large-scale persistent challenges in the world, such as the destruction of cultural heritage sites, by combining the UC team’s assets in geospatial analysis, crowd-sourced field data for archaeology, data design and visualization, and computer graphics. The Catalyst project also includes student-based crowd-sourcing TerraWatchers, ‘missions’ which use satellite imagery to monitor impacts on cultural heritage sites related to current events.