Project Details

Million Image Database

Volunteers with 3D cameras capture heritage sites for posterity

By The Institute of Digital Archaeology

Project URL:
Project Twitter: @DigiArchaeo

  • Safety & Security
  • Audiovisual
  • Physical Computing

The world watched in horror when Islamic State forces blew up the iconic 2,000-year-old Arch of Triumph in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria, in 2015. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an isolated incident. Satellite imagery is revealing a shocking picture of ongoing, systematic destruction of churches, mosques and antiquities around UNESCO-protected sites in the Middle East. 

Alexy Karenowska has a high-tech solution for protecting the world’s architectural heritage. The Director of Technology at The Institute for Digital Archaeology and a research fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford is part of a project called the Million Images Database, which seeks to photograph ancient sites around the world in 3D.

With support from the Dubai Future Foundation and UNESCO, Karenowska and her team are equipping an army of locals with light, inexpensive and discreet cameras that capture stereoscopic pictures. 

The cameras are easy to use, and once the images are taken, local volunteers can send them to the UK for processing, where an in-house photography team and another network of volunteers perform site surveys, which lead to computer renderings of each site. The renderings can then be used to create engaging interactive experiences that tell more of a story than simple 2D images.

5,000 cameras are due to be distributed in 2016, and the project is already bearing fruit. While Palmyra’s Arch of Triumph may have been destroyed by ISIS, computer imaging and 3D technology has enabled the team to 3D print a replica, which is being displayed in major cities around the world, before being returned to Syria. 

To join a host of volunteers working to archive and keep our heritage sites, visit

Image courtesy of Daniel Mennerich

Last updated: 13th of September, 2016

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