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Remote Sensing Science Center for Cultural Heritage

Cultural heritage (CH) is an important aspect of identity, which is why it is of utmost importance to protect it when it is in danger. An EU-funded project has been leading efforts in the protection of CH.

CH has always faced numerous challenges from financial crises and war to globalisation and technological changes. This has prompted professionals in the field to improve current methodologies to better understand, protect and valorise the common European past and identity.

Leading the way

To help support the CH sector, “the ATHENA project worked to create a centre of excellence in the field of remote sensing (RS) for CH in archaeology,” outlines Dr Diofantos Hadjimitsis, project coordinator. This centre was established by twinning the existing Remote Sensing & Geo-Environment Research Lab at the Cyprus University of Technology (CUT) with world-leading counterparts, including the National Research Council of Italy (CNR) and the German Aerospace Center (DRL).

“This close collaboration will help build a synergic network that will permit networking, transfer of knowledge and training of the existing personnel of CUT,” explains Dr Hadjimitsis. This will also improve and expand the capabilities and collaboration between low-performing and leading institutions, involving professionals dealing with RS technologies and applications.

Explaining the importance of RS, Dr Hadjimitsis points out that “RS science is increasingly being used to support archaeological and CH research.” This is because it is a distant, non-destructive and non-invasive tool. It can be used for many activities, including detecting buried archaeological features and monitoring sites, and for risk assessment purposes.

Key achievements

ATHENA put RS archaeology at the forefront of modern research, evidencing the great possibilities offered by the integration of RS data with other types of information related to traditional archaeological research. “This integration was achieved mostly through geographic information systems (GIS), that aimed to understand and safeguard CH,” notes Dr Hadjimitsis.

Additionally, the project further exploited the current capabilities of CUT and the CH sector of its Eratosthenes Research Centre, in terms of personnel capacity and equipment, with RS techniques. The coordinator elaborates: “It has also led to the significant upgrade of the CUT’s personnel academic profile resulting in new collaborations.”

CNR, DLR and CUT members have assisted both in knowledge transfer and applications. Dr Hadjimitsis reports: “The project filled a major gap between cross-disciplinary research and exploitation methods through different scientific domains using RS technologies.”

The project also helped to increase public awareness of the possibilities offered by RS in the field of CH. Issues involving the protection and monitoring of CH sites can now be addressed at the governmental level through the knowledge of the ATHENA Centre of Excellence’s research staff.

What’s next?

“The next step is to keep the ATHENA spirit alive,” confirms Dr Hadjimitsis. Members of the ATHENA consortium are still working together, taking forward research initiated during the project. Additionally, new research proposals have been submitted for funding, with ATHENA being the motivation behind many of them.

Apart from the preservation of CH, “ATHENA aims to be seen through its people and website as a place of knowledge and a standard lab in the field of RS archaeology and CH.” The vision is for it to be an 'open school' for scholars, researchers and professionals of the related fields, concludes Dr Hadjimitsis.

Reference source: Remote Sensing Science Center for Cultural Heritage

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