11 February 2019

DIGITIZATION TO THE RESCUE

Conservation Tips & Tricks | Selin Kahramanoglu


The much-anticipated (just humour me, you guys) third and final part of the "Alternative Conservation" series has arrived! This post will address the digitization approach to conservation, using the Lascaux Caves as our case study. Hold onto your floppy disks and let's get going!

Wall painting in the Lascaux Caves. Source.
Don't Get Too Excited

Now, I'm not going to sugar coat this (partly because I'm on a diet), but digitization is some tricky business. Creating digital records is an everyday occurrence that can't be helped. Left and right, born-digital records are being produced almost as often as superhero movies. Unfortunately, with digital records, we can never go back to the original context of the record's creation. For this reason, records are unstable.

Let's say that I want to remember my trip to the Lascaux Caves. I can take a picture, a video, an audio recording, or even a 3D scan of the site. What if I want to post a shorter version of the video of my trip on Instagram? Then, it's no longer the same video. It doesn't matter that the edited video is from the same source, and has the same content. It's been changed, and that's that. No turning back.

Tip: Metadata is always changing and updating, so it's important to acknowledge that it's difficult to keep up with digital records, but not impossible.


More Bad News

One thing we can't ignore is that digital records live fast, and die young. In the next couple decades, some hardware and software will be obsolete. This means that some records will no longer be accessible, retrievable, or even comprehensible. If you want to record an audio file on your visit to the Lascaux Caves using the recording app of your smartphone, think twice. In two years, that phone won't charge anymore, the battery will die, and your file will be lost.

With planned consumerism, the lifespan of digital mechanics are getting shorter and shorter. Still, the digital method is convenient. Especially when it comes to phones, laptops, and tablets, these digital resources are right at our fingertips. The question is, do you think constantly paying for the newer update is worth the trouble?

Tip: The reality of the matter is that restoring an older digital format or reader is time-consuming, requires resources, expertise, and money. A lot of money.



ANYTHING Positive to Say?

After all those limitations, why in the world would we use digitization as a conservation method? Remember that digital records are easy to create, to manipulate, and to dispose of. That's why it can be an excellent method for conservation! Let's say that you want to teach someone about how the light dances in the Lascaux Caves. Just take a video and show them. You've just created a digital record of an entire experience, easy-peasy.

With so many artifacts in a museum collection, it is not very realistic to put them all on display. However, digitizing the catalogue and making it available for public online viewing is similar to displaying them. Some museums are strictly digitally accessible. In any case, digitization allows the museum visitor to see and experience much more, pushing the boundaries of the physical museum.

Tip: Limited exhibition space? Place a tablet containing digitized artifacts relevant to the exhibition theme in the gallery to compliment the physical objects on display.


Finally, Good News

With the digitization of artifacts, rare, and unique object can be seen at any time, and anywhere in the world. We can simulate realistic, and immersive, interpretations of lost heritage to our heart's content! Through landscape digitization, we can visit the Lascaux Caves, and even walk among the site in a virtual reality experience. Digital copies of artifacts and archaeological sites also protects the originals from the damages that can occur from too many physical interactions. Not only that, digitization can be useful for wayfinding. Have you ever gotten lost, or unsure of what your destination looks like? The Google Maps app and Street View can get you to where you need to go because global geography has been digitized!

Tip: The digital record has the potential to become an exact replication of the original, but it can never replace it. Rather, the digital adds another dimension to comprehending information.


The next time you're considering alternative conservation methods, digitization is a very real and frequently used approach in the modern age. Of course, the more traditional methods of preservation and restoration are good options too. It all depends on what you're trying to salvage, for how long, and if you have enough resources to do so. Good luck with your upcoming conservation practices, my friends, because I know that choosing one method is not as easy as it looks.

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