Archaeologists Race to Map History Before ISIS Destroys It
Volunteers will risk lives to get 3-D images of world's oldest and most important sites
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 2, 2015 6:30 PM CDT
The 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel in Syria was recently blown up by the Islamic State. Now, archeologists are trying to digitally document other antiquities before they suffer the same fate.   (Silvan Rehfeld, UNESCO via AP)

(Newser) – Archaeologists and thousands of volunteers are in a race against time to digitally map some of the world's oldest and most important statues, temples, and cities before they can be destroyed by the Islamic State, the Los Angeles Times reports. If ISIS "is permitted to wipe the slate clean and rewrite the history of a region that defined global aesthetic and political sensibilities, we will collectively suffer a costly and irreversible defeat," Roger Michel, director of the Institute for Digital Archaeology, tells the Telegraph. In recent months, the terrorist group has blown up a pair of 2,000-year-old temples in Syria and destroyed Iraq's ancient city of Nimrud. ISIS considers these antiquities idolatry, and destroying them is a major facet of its propaganda, notes Forbes.

To combat the loss of history, the institute—a venture between Harvard and Oxford—is spending $2 million to send at least 5,000 high-tech cameras to volunteers in the region to take millions of photos, the Telegraph reports. The institute will use the photos to create 3-D images, which could be used to make replicas of destroyed sites, something Forbes states MIT has offered to do. Taking photos at these sites will be dangerous work, and volunteers will only go to sites not yet controlled by ISIS, the Times reports. Though the project started only six weeks ago, time is of the essence. "We want to do something to document this legacy before it disappears," Michel tells the Times. (The group also beheaded an archaeological pioneer in the region.)