Social Media aids Heritage Preservation

11 June 2014

SIG: Archaeology and Heritage

How “Selfies” and other social media tools aid Preservation

By Cindy A Eccles

As a photographer, I use these social media websites - in particular photography and video sharing platform - to help reinvigorate my creative juices, get constructive feedback on images, and connect with noted experts in the field.  But, as a traveller, I often join the millions of camera-carrying tourists who enjoy snapping a “selfie” here or there in an effort to post on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites to show friends and family me standing next to some landmark or other thrilling object.  While not suitable for Fine Art exhibitions, it is this tourist-mode of picture taking which could become a useful tool for heritage specialists to monitor archaeological sites at risk from natural and man-made elements. 

Our case study takes us to Turkey's southeastern Sanliurfa province and to Gobekli Tepe ("Potbelly Hill"), an Early Neolithic stone site dated to about 10,000 years old.   For perspective, that is roughly 6,000 years before Stone Henge in England.  The site is comprised of multiple circular features with monolithic stone pillars ranging from 2 ft to 10ft tall. (For more on the site itself, I recommend National Geographic's 2011 article.)

Situated on the southern facing edge of a wind-swept ridge, the now-exposed sandstone monoliths are subjected to high winds, rain, and constant heat-frost swings, not to mention digging and prowling by local wildlife.  To protect some of the more at-risk areas of the site, tiered metal covers were to direct water and other debris away from the partially excavated area and provide some cover from hard rains and sandstorms. Other preservation efforts in 2010-2011 by the Global Heritage Fund included a wooden catwalk managing visitor traffic away from the T-shaped pillars, stabilizing weaker pillars, and covering more fragile stone features with wooden crate-like boxes. 


While these projective measures were still present when I visited the site in September 2012, a quick review of images from the GHF project website suggested little more had been done since 2011.  Interested in what progress had been made since my visit, I began searching the internet for any updates but was unsuccessful.  By chance, I discovered something just as useful - possibly even better:  a handful of new images posted by bloggers and tourists on popular social media websites such as Flickr and 500PX, and travel websites such as TripAdvisor.

Some photos were near duplicates of images I had captured, while others provided a different perspective.  By comparing the before, during, and after September 2012 images, I had a better idea of the areas that were previously most under threat, which preservation efforts were implemented, and more importantly what areas of the site were still at risk.  

Other heritage sites at risk that could benefit from social media monitoring include:

  • Mes Aynak:  Today, ancient treasures such as the Buddha statues at Mes Aynak in Afghanistan are facing total destruction in the pursuit of extracting copper by Chinese commercial firms.   For Afghanistan, the commercial investment could lead the country out of years of devastating war, at the expense of one of Afghanistan’s largest and most significant archaeological treasures.  


Given the constant forces from both nature and man, and with shrinking preservation budgets, perhaps heritage specialists can checkout #gobeklitepe or search for images on the Bagan Temples of Mynmar on other social media as a free and beneficial tool to monitor site degradation and adjust conservation efforts to protect these precious cultural resources. 

Text and photographs by Cindy Eccles -