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Google Arts and Culture Program Preserves the Past

Photo of Google Arts and Culture Head of Preservation Chance Coughenour

Google Arts and Culture Head of Preservation Chance Coughenour

The Google Arts and Culture program is providing all of us with an incredible opportunity to experience places we might never see.

From an article in i News by Rhiannon Williams.

Technology, as an industry dedicated to the relentless reinvention of the present, and archaeology’s dedication to studying the past may seem unlikely bedfellows to the casual observer. But new innovations are changing both the way we uncover our past and the ways we build our future.

Digital archaeologist Chance Coughenour is head of preservation at Google Arts & Culture, the technology giant’s online archive of artworks and collections from galleries and museums across the world – allowing visitors to climb the Eiffel Tower, explore the British Library or examine Van Gogh’s Starry Night in detail via their smartphone. He studied Computing Engineering at West Virginia University before majoring in History, attending his first field school in Belize where he “fall in love with archaeology” thanks to its ancient Maya ruins.

A long-distance Masters in Archaeology of Ancient History from the University of Leicester followed before he moved to Germany to study a PhD focussing on 3D modelling and mapping at the Institute of Photogrammetry at the University of Stuttgart.

Since joining Google three years ago, he’s focused on helping institutions to digitise their artifacts and collections and create compelling digital experiences to encourage the public to engage with them online. “It’s always been challenging for historians or archaeologists who has studied an ancient civilisation for most of their lives and who have a very clear picture in their mind,” he explains. “They can describe it well in a book, but you know most people these days are going to want to see it.”

This is where technology comes in. Rapid advancements in software and equipment means investigating sites of potentially hidden artifacts is easier and more efficient than even five years ago, allowing researchers to comb areas which would have been previously inaccessible – even if concerns over carbon emissions means he flies less than he used to.

“Now it’s simple to mount laser scanning or imagery technology onto planes and fly them over a jungle, allowing you to effectively see through the trees and take a look at the archaeology underneath instead of spending days moving through the forest looking for them,” Coughenour says.

“We’ve already used ground-penetrating radar at Stonehenge and found other parts of the community which no one knew about, and they don’t have to dig, which is great. From a visual mapping standpoint, the technology is really becoming out of this world – and that’s not a canned phrase without relevance because you can use satellite imagery today to detect and identify sites which have been lost for thousands of years.”

For the full story click here.

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