How Your Gift to CHI Helps Save History

Examples:  Ancient footprints on a beach  Deteriorating paintings by a master  Crumbling rock with historical inscriptions 

Cultural heritage is precious and fragile. Historical sites and objects are under threat every day in every country of the world. Political upheaval, natural disasters, natural elements, and simple wear and tear all are putting our human history at risk. Your gift to CHI leads to breakthroughs in research, documentation, and preservation like these.

A UK archaeologist and previous CHI trainee documents the oldest human footprints outside of Africa.

Sr. Sarah Duffy shooting photogrammetry in the rain

Dr. Sarah Duffy shooting photogrammetry in the rain at Happisburgh, UK


3D model of laminated surface containing footprints at Happisburgh, UK

3D model of laminated surface containing the footprints at Happisburgh.
Image by Sarah M. Duffy. Click image to enlarge.

In May of 2013, after a series of storms, 900,000-year-old footprints were revealed on a beach near Happisburgh on Britain’s east coast. The footprints were in clay, fragile and washing away at high tide, layer by layer, as each wave reached them.

Fast documentation was essential. Dr. Nick Ashton of the British Museum called Dr. Sarah Duffy, a CHI training graduate and Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of York in the Department of Archaeology, to the site.

“When I arrived, both the weather and tidal restrictions limited the time we were able dedicate to recording. I focused my efforts on photogrammetry, which proved a flexible and robust enough technique that we were able to get the kit down the cliff side in extremely challenging conditions and capture images that were used later to generate 3D models.” — Dr. Sarah Duffy

Sarah’s work helped extend the known time of early human presence in Britain by 100,000 years.

See the CHI blog about Sarah's work as well as her own website. See also Sarah's paper, Hominin Footprints from Early Pleistocene Deposits at Happisburgh, UK.

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A conservator at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum uses training skills and open source tools from CHI to monitor a potentially ruinous chemical reaction in paintings by O’Keeffe.

Dale Kronkright at Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

Dale Kronkright, Head Conservator, Georgia O'Keeffe Museum


RTI detail of O'Keeffe painting

RTI still detail, false color normal vector data visualization.
Micro-protrusions now clearly visible as tiny blisters of varying diameter and relief.
Pedernal, 1941. 15mm wide area.
Image courtesy Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.

Left unchecked, such chemical reactions can destroy areas of O'Keeffe's paintings. Early detection gave the conservator a method to protect these famous works.

“We are using RTI to identify, map, and monitor the rate of change of these tiny blisters, 50–200 microns in diameter.” — Dale Kronkright, Head Conservator, Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

Non-drying oils commonly used in pre-primed canvases from Belgium, Germany, and France in the 20th century caused the problem. These oils wick water molecules from the air thorough the unprimed canvas back into the paint layer applied by Ms. O’Keeffe. The water then interacts with the paint to form small cysts of lead soaps. Ultimately small blisters can form on the surface of the painting. Changes in humidity seem to accelerate the process and can create larger blisters. Along with ongoing monitoring, the museum employs special environmental stabilization measures to safeguard the paintings for future generations.

Read more in the CHIForums about the lead soaps and how they are monitored with RTI.

Learn more in the museum's conservation video, and see RTIs of O'Keeffe paintings, also at the O'Keeffe conservation website.

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A National Park Service team in New Mexico uses CHI's digital images of ancient Native American petroglyphs and Spanish and American Inscriptions to monitor erosion and preserve data.

Rock face at El Morro showing deterioration

Historical inscriptions at El Morro National Monument.
Note the broken rock face at the bottom.
See 3D results in the CHI article about the work at El Morro.

At El Morro National Monument in New Mexico, the towering rock faces have lured Native Americans, Spanish Conquistadors, US explorers, immigrants, and other visitors for centuries. They, in turn, made their inscriptions and created history.

Many of the inscriptions are at risk from erosion of the sandstone from intensifying weathering, clay wash running down the cliff face after rains, as well as rock falls and human folly. Some precious inscriptions have already become illegible or fallen to destruction.

Working with the National Park Service and a team from UC Denver, the CHI team used 3D photogrammetry and RTI methods to collect the inscriptions' fine surface detail. This extensive, measurable 3D information benchmarks the condition of the inscriptions today and can be used to assess, monitor, and treat them in the future. This historical record also provides a “knowledge safety net” against future, inevitable, physical losses, including the means for physical reproduction if the need arises.

Learn more in a new CHI project report.

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There are many more examples like these. Your support helps us help the stewards of cultural and historic treasures everywhere, every single day. Please make a gift to CHI!

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