African Heritage Database

African Cultural Heritage/University of Cape Town
3D model of the Great Mosque of Djenne, Mali

Many of Africa's natural and cultural heritage sites are under threat from uncontrolled development, poaching, civil unrest, lack of funds, environmental hazards, climate change and other risks. Less than 10% of the sites inscribed on the World Heritage List are in Africa. However over 40 % of those listed as World Heritage in Danger are African sites. Managing a World Heritage site in Africa is a complex task. Generally, available funds can barely cover the salaries of the support staff. Accurate, appropriate maps of the site and it surroundings are often not available.

Space technologies provide assistance to protect Africa’s heritage

Today, heritage sites, and particularly cultural heritage sites, can be properly documented using spatial tools and geomatic science. However these tools require great expertise, special hardware such as laser scanners or digital photogrammetry stations, and sophisticated software. While Africa is developing very good capacity in geomatics, this expertise is unfortunately not widespread among the Heritage Authorities community, whether in Africa or in other parts of the world. Consequently, the Heritage Community has difficulty using geomatic data. However, using its final outputs is fairly easy.

African Cultural Heritage/University of Cape Town
3D model of the Fort Sao Sbastiao, Mozambique

The African Heritage Database project, coordinated by the University of Cape Town in South Africa, is a documentation project that aims to capture spatial information to create a permanent record of African heritage sites for immediate restoration and conservation purposes. The database will also serve as a record for future generations and provide material for education, research and site management, ultimately increasing international awareness of the importance of African heritage. Some 40 sites with over 100 structures have already been documented successfully by the team.

UNESCO is launching an activity in partnership with University of Cape Town to support this African effort. Africa is the highest of UNESCO’s priorities, as defined by its General Conference.

However the organization’s current financial situation makes it difficult to focus on Africa as much as would be desired. Only through extra-budgetary funds will UNESCO be able to implement activities to support Africa.

African heritage sites can benefit from modern geomatics tools if proper support is provided to deliver data and digital products in a form that is realistically exploitable by site managers.

African Cultural Heritage/University of Cape Town
3D model of a chapel in the Island of Mozambique

For instance if a printed architectural map of a section of a wall is provided, the site manager can use it to better understand the wall, identify and restore damaged sections and take appropriate measures. 3D computer models can also be produced and, in conjunction with free 3D viewing software, used by non-technical staff to visualize details of a site in 3D and plan conservation interventions or shown as interactive displays in tourist centres.

The aim of this initiative is to further support the development of the African Heritage Database under the leadership of the Zamani Research Project at the University of Cape Town, while securing the establishment of a service to assist African site managers in the management and conservation of their heritage.

African authorities require assistance to further document African cultural heritage sites, and more specifically to be able to access this information through a single platform addressing the needs of local heritage conservation managers. Space technologies can meet those needs and assist in the creation of an effective African Heritage Database.

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