Virtual Museum Collections of Yemen – Post-Conflict Recovery of Yemeni Museums is a project that centres on the photogrammetric record of museum collections at risk and on capacity building measures on the ground. The long-term aim is to enable the collections to be presented in the form of virtual museums.
The war and the economic crisis in Yemen have led to the increasing destruction of cultural heritage. This is caused by illegal digging, looting and unauthorized building on archaeological sites as well as the illegal trafficking of objects. Along with ancient and historical sites, it is in particular Yemeni museums and their collections that are acutely at risk. Museums are looted or destroyed in air raids.
The cultural preservation projects of the Sanaa branch of the German Archaeological Institute, which are being carried out in the country in close cooperation with the Yemeni General Organization of Antiquities and Museums (GOAM), therefore focus among other things on preserving the collections of Yemeni museums. Initially work is concentrating on the National Museum in Sanaa with the aim of safeguarding and archiving museum objects. After five years of armed conflict including air raids the objects in the National Museum in Sanaa are in grave danger. Although emergency safeguarding measures have been taken, the provisional packing material used at the time today shows signs of damage by vermin, humidity and UV radiation.
The project consists of concrete measures to protect museum collections from looting, war damage and improper storage. Funding for the project was initially provided by the Cultural Preservation Programme of the Federal Foreign Office and since 2018 has come from the Gerda Henkel Stiftung through the Patrimonies programme. Thanks to the ALIPH Foundation the cultural preservation measures at the National Museum in Sanaa can now be intensified and also expanded to include the museums of Baynun, Zafar, Ibb and Ataq.
Virtual Museum Collections of Yemen – Post-Conflict Recovery of Yemeni Museums is an initiative that builds upon this project. Since 2020 it has been financed through the ArcHerNet project Zero Hour – A Future for the Time after the Crisis. In conjunction with the Department of Geodesy & Geoinformatics and Photogrammetry & Laser Scanning at the HafenCity University Hamburg, the objective is to produce a photogrammetric record of Yemen’s endangered museum collections using the Dense Image Matching technique and to supply comprehensive information via links.
Along with the acquisition of data, this will allow better assessment of damaged objects via remote diagnosis and potentially also the restoration thereof. Objects lost as a result of the hostilities can be reproduced if required. Furthermore documenting museum objects and archiving them in databases can curb the illegal trade in cultural goods. To date it has been impossible, or possible only to an inadequate degree, to determine what objects have been stolen or damaged or indeed destroyed as a result of the hostilities. Systematic documentation for instance of museum objects in Yemen does not exist at present in such a form as to permit this kind of appraisal.
The first step is to provide staff at Yemen’s General Organization of Antiquities and Museums with training in terrestrial photogrammetry techniques. This ensures long-term capacity and competence building on the ground. Following that, experts in Germany will enter the data in the configured Ancient Yemen Digital Atlas (AYDA) and evaluate the objects from both a scientific and a restoration point of view. In the long term, Yemen can thereby be rendered capable of presenting its collections to the world also in the form of virtual museums.
Dr. Iris Gerlach, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Außenstelle Sanaa
Hanna Hamel, Holger Hitgen, Josephine Schoeneberg
General Organization of Antiquities and Museums (GOAM)
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