Digital Heritage and Its Technologies


Preservation of cultural heritage is among the primary concerns of contemporary societies. Its significance has both economic and cultural roots. Culture and heritage are meaningful for both personal and collective developments of an individual. Culture and heritage are necessary for satisfying aesthetic, spiritual, and cultural needs. Moreover, they convey some economic aspects. Cultural heritage mirrors the achievements of human civilization and wisdom of the generations. The protection of cultural heritage means protection of the human history and works of people created in its course. Researchers state that “historic structures and sites reveal the events, the problems, and the progress of the past (Yilmaz, Yakar, Gulec, & Dulgerler, 2007, p. 428). In addition, those historic objects provide a possibility to visualize the events of previous generations. Despite many efforts to save historic cultural heritage, its objects vanish year after year due to natural or human factors thus depriving the coming generations of the opportunity to see them. In the recent decades, digital methods are suggested as the ways to document and thus preserve cultural heritage. The overview of digital heritage and its technologies, assessment of its opportunities for governmental and educational purposes, and analysis of its current projects can contribute to the understanding and development of digital heritage and the development of new frameworks and perspectives.

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Digital Heritage Overview

The preservation of cultural heritage is a concern of many international organizations. Thus, in the 1972, UNESCO outlined the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (Yilmaz et al., 2007). During the twentieth century, UNESCO in cooperation with the Council of Europe contributed to the formation of specialized organizations responsible for cultural heritage preservation. One of the most significant organizations of that type is ICOMOS (International Council for Monuments and Sites). Other institutions and organizations involved in activities concerning preservation and conservation of cultural heritages include CIPA (International Committee for Architectural Photogrammetry), ISPRS (International Society for Photogrammetry & Remote Sensing), ICOM (International Council for Museums), ICCROM (International Centre for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments) and UIA (International Union of Architects) (Yilmaz et al., 2007). A complex process of heritage documentation comprises such stages as “data acquisition, interpretation, and production” (Yilmaz et al., 2007, p. 429). Documentation is a crucial step for the process of conservation of objects of cultural heritage. At present, documentation includes the digitalization of cultural objects thus contributing to the appearance of the concept of digital heritage.

Howell (2001) speaks of the deterioration of digital resources. The author states that the “life expectancy of digital information resources is problematic due to their machine dependency, unpredictable media life, rapid technological obsolescence and reliance on us for their survival” (Howell, 2001, p. 139). Moreover, the technical challenges, management and political issues are also significant. Unlike traditional resources such as paper, digital information resources suggest an enhanced functionality. On the one hand, it is conditioned by the constant development of information technologies. On the other hand, progress increases the complexity of this technology. One of the problems connected with the carriers of digital information is its durability. It depends on some factors such as the initial “quality of the medium; the number of times the medium is accessed over its lifetime, the care with which the medium is handled; storage temperature and humidity the cleanliness of the storage environment, and the quality of the recorder used to write to the medium” (Howell, 2001, p. 139). Thus, there is a necessity to develop technologies able to preserve digital resources.

Mudge, Ashley, and Schroer (2007) discuss the digital future of cultural heritage. It is determined by the standards and tools applied by cultural heritage professionals. The authors review some emerging digital technologies in the context of cultural heritage. Mudge, Ashley, and Schroer (2007) explore digital perspectives for cultural heritage considering such key principles as “adoption of digital surrogates, empirical provenance, perpetual digital conservation, and the democratization of technology” Mudge, Ashley, & Schroer, 2007, p. 1). The research also investigates the ways empirical provenance can improve the authenticity and reliability of digital surrogates. Another issue disclosed in the research is the potential of the emerging technologies for the democratization of digital technology and making it applicable for cultural heritage professionals. The authors make a conclusion that the fundamentals and the emerging technologies are necessary for the cultural heritage and its preservation.

Significance of Digital Heritage in Government and Educational Purposes

At present, digital heritage is among the major issues all over the world. It is significant for diverse spheres of life but has the most value for government and educational purposes. According to Anico and Peralta (2009), the governmental concern includes the growth in “public awareness over recent years that these kinds of monuments constitute an important part of our past” (p. 15). There exist many objects of cultural heritage around the world which need to be preserved and documented. However, cultural heritage does not mean a separate artifact or site. It is a complicated process that comprises different objects and sites that reflect the development of humanity, its culture and traditions. Moreover, heritage can serve as a source of communication transferring values, ideas, and knowledge including virtual or intangible material. According to Ashworth (as cited in Anico, & Peralta, 2009, p. 15), “heritage is a product of the present yet drawing upon an assumed imaginary past and an equally assumed imaginary future.”

Sugimoto (2016) discusses some major aspects of digital archives and metadata for the preservation of the community memory for the future. Digital archives are treated as bearers of cultural, social, and other types of information. The author claims that digitalizing of cultural resources of the communities and their preservation prevent them from the risk of ruining in a disaster (Sugimoto, 2016). The researcher speaks of the Japanese experience in preserving cultural heritage and other important information in digital archives. Moreover, he presents a cloud-based model for digital preservation. This model is safe and can contain a variety of digital objects. One of the objectives outlined by Sugimoto (2016) is the need for the development of infrastructure that will allow sharing of data from diverse digital archives.

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To contribute to the meaningfulness of heritage for governments, the experience of Great Britain should be mentioned. Thus, the concept of heritage is extensively called upon by British politicians and policy-makers as a tool for “repositioning British national identity to foster social cohesion” (Anico, & Peralta, 2009, p. 15). For example, the speech of the British Minister for Culture in the British Government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport was focused on the issue of the British shared heritage. Moreover, Anico and Peralta (2009) review the definitions of heritage in political contexts as a source for changing the perspectives of relations between identities and nations. In addition, the authors regard Ashworth’s treatment of heritage as a medium of communication. Their research is based on the concept that national heritage is an integral component of ‘governmentality’ processes and its meaning for the contemporary British context. On the other hand, the alterations in the treatment of national identity are considered to be a factor influencing the heritage. Finally, Anico and Peralta (2009) discover an online project ‘ICONS of England’ which connects the heritage, populist discussions, and governmental discourses.

Another sphere that makes use of cultural heritage in education. Ott and Pozzi (2011) speak of the necessity of admitting the significance of the past and demand treating cultural heritage as a fundamental background of our identity in the contemporary Knowledge Society. The work by Ott and Pozzi (2011) studies the ways for information communication technology (ICT) tools to contribute to enhancing cultural heritage education. Moreover, this study attempts to find proof to the fact that ICT can provide some added value to cultural heritage teaching, education and learning. The authors concentrate on the artifacts of cultural heritage that are related to arts or archelogy. In addition, Ott and Pozzi (2011) outline a methodological perspective and present examples of innovative practices in education related to the influence of ICT on education as means to get acquainted with the cultural digital heritage. It is concluded that ICT provides better access and a multi-perspective view of the objects of cultural heritage. Moreover, it can enhance and develop cultural heritage education due to the acceptance of innovative learning and teaching approaches and techniques.

Effectiveness of Digital Technologies in Preserving Heritage

One of the primary goals of digital technologies in the context of culture is the preservation of the heritage of humanity and its transfer for the coming generations. Such cultural heredity contributes to the development of every generation in the best traditions of their ancestors. Some technologies can be more efficient than others while fulfilling the same functions. The application of digital technologies for cultural heritage preservation needs careful evaluation. The benefits of digital technology include the provision of “huge data volumes, high-speed computation, multimedia presentation, and online access” (Zhou, Geng, & Wu, 2012, p. 4). Moreover, these authors claim that digital technology introduces a significant and efficient approach that enables the protection of cultural heritage. One of the crucial tasks of contemporary computer scientists is to restore and preserve the existing and destroyed artifacts through the use of “computer graphics, image processing, virtual reality, and other new technologies, combined with traditional protection and display methods” (Zhou, Geng, & Wu, 2012, p. 4). Modern digital techniques stimulated a technical revolution in the issue of cultural heritage preservation and protection. These techniques changed the traditional approaches to the protection of cultural heritage. Such changes can also influence and alter the way of thinking and working of archaeologists. Zhou, Geng, and Wu (2012) support the common idea that heritage should be demonstrated to society. Nevertheless, the separation of cultural heritage objects from their natural environment leads to the separation of the general view and finally negatively influences the perception of the objects. Thus, digital technologies can be applied by museums or other organizations to provide the views of the virtual cultural heritages to the spectators and make them realize the significance of cultural heritage as a whole. For example, for the “Museum Experience”, such digital technologies and devices as multimedia and virtual reality can be used to rebuild the image of the cultural heritage objects. These technologies also empower the educational potential of digital cultural heritage.

Zhou, Geng, and Wu (2012) distinguish some digitalization technologies applicable for the cultural heritage. These technologies comprise “high-fidelity, integrated storage and access techniques; categorization and digital archives of cultural heritage, and digital techniques to build cultural resource databases; virtual museums, virtual reconstruction and rehabilitation of cultural relics, digital simulation and visualization technology of the cultural spaces and procedures; the technology to recreate the lifestyle, practice, consumption, currency, transmission, and continuity of the traditional craftsmanship; and the pattern and technology to display and transmit the digital cultural heritage” (Zhou, Geng, & Wu, 2012, p. 4).

Ch’ng, Gaffney, and Chapman (2013) state that high-definition laser scanning has become a prominent technology frequently applied in the sphere of heritage. It can be used for a variety of tasks from digital recording and landscapes’ analysis to the depiction of buildings and other cultural objects. On the one hand, technology is not new. However, it has the potential for a more precise and dense preservation of information.

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Themes of the Reviewed Works

The issue of digital heritage is mainly connected with the cultural heritage of humanity. The world cultural heritage comprises material and intangible categories. In its turn, material heritage includes unmovable and movable parts (Zhou, Geng, & Wu, 2012). Material cultural heritage, according to Zhou, Geng, and Wu (2012), is “of outstanding universal value from the point of view of history, art, or science” (p. 2). Unmovable cultural heritage comprises fixed objects, both natural and architectural. For example, ancient tombs, old architectural structures, cave temples, and stone carvings are the objects of immovable cultural heritage. Movable cultural heritage includes significant authentic items such as works of art, historical documents, and ancient manuscripts. The notion of digital heritage deals with the objects of material heritage, both movable and immovable.

Definition of Digital Heritage

Zhou, Geng, and Wu (2012) speak of the importance of cultural digitalization and define it as “the process of digitalizing the movable or unmovable cultural heritage using contemporary remote-sensing and virtual technologies to achieve 2D or 3D digital archiving, for the merits of protection, reparation, restoration, and archaeological research” (p. 2). Wellington and Oliver (2015) do not limit digital heritage to the sum of digital media tools or platforms. Their research on digital heritage attempts to explain “the engagement between cultural heritage and technology through the application of a broader sociocultural lens” (Wellington & Oliver, 2015, p. 579). Also, the authors introduce a term of “museum computing,” which is intended to describe the innovative role of computers for museums.

According to UNESCO (as cited in Wellington & Oliver, 2015, p. 579), digital heritage can be defined as “computer-based materials of enduring value that should be kept for future generations”. These materials comprise “texts, databases, still and moving images, audio, graphics, software, and web pages, among a wide and growing range of formats. They are frequently ephemeral and require purposeful production, maintenance and management to be retained” (Wellington & Oliver, 2015, p. 579). UNESCO 2014). The investigation of digital heritage introduces sociocultural frameworks to digital objects. Moreover, it treats digital heritage as the crossing of digital media and a cultural heritage environment.

Examples of Digital Heritage Projects in Europe

International attention to digital cultural heritage protection significantly increased during the recent decades. It was followed by the development of new theories and tools of technical support. Digital technology gained broad application during digital graphics and vision art conferences. Moreover, digital heritage became a topic for scholarly researchers. Governments of the developed countries initiated digital heritage projects in cooperation with public organizations and educational institutions. For example, in Europe, there appeared such projects as 3D MURALE, ICONS, and VITRA.

Zhou, Geng, & Wu (2012) present a 3D MURALE projection which is financially supported by the European Union. This project introduces a series of methods that can be applied for the protection and rebuilding of many ancient sites. It is not a new intervention. Similar methods are already used for Turkish Sagalassos ruins. This projection includes “acquisition and recording of cultural heritage, forming a multimedia database, virtual rebuilding, visualization, rebuilding ancient sites according to database and excavations, providing many new media technologies on recording, classification, protection, and recovering ancient utensils, buildings and ruins” (Zhou, Geng, & Wu, 2012, p. 6).

The increase of public attention to digital heritage issues has encouraged the development of some big projects. One of such projects is the ICONS introduced by the England website ( (Anico & Peralta, 2009). It enables the public to nominate, comment on and vote for the objects they consider integral symbols of England’s national heritage. The authors claim that this project is to some extent similar to the museum-visitor books. Many people visit them, but few visitors leave commentaries. However, Anico and Peralta (2009) consider this resource worth studying because it provides illustrations to many discussions concerning cultural heritage. Moreover, it is a unique experience of observing the process of public heritage creation. Initially, ICONS was designed to serve as an online gathering of “England’s most cherished cultural treasures” (Anico & Peralta, 2009, p. 20). Thus, it could be considered an English digital museum. Later, the ICONS of England project gained popularity as a resource that reveals the governmental policies concerning the heritage sphere and populist discussions.

Anico and Peralta (2009) also review the Culture Online project. It was initiated launched by the British Government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in 2000. Its goal was “building engagement with arts and culture through technology, with a particular emphasis on working with “hard-to-reach groups” (Anico & Peralta, 2009, p. 21). Consequently, ICONS initially had multiple goals such as stimulating awareness and attention to real heritage objects, including museums and galleries, together with a technological program aimed at the increase of web literacy. Nevertheless, the interactive and cooperative potential of the internet was considered to be of primary significance. It was supposed to reveal in designing of an open forum for discussions of the major issues of English heritage. (Anico & Peralta, 2009).

MacDonald (2006) presents the VITRA (Veridical Imaging of Transmissive and Reflective Artefacts), another European project that comprised 30-month research funded by the European Community. It resulted in the development of “high-quality digital images of architectural details in historic buildings” (MacDonald, 2006, p. 394). Particular attention was given to stained glass windows which are usually challenging for conservation and restoration. The project team managed to develop the visualization of panoramic images of significant sites of England and Germany (MacDonald, 2006).

Another project related to digital heritage is The Digital Facts launched in the Netherlands (Niet, 2010). It became one of the tools used to support the monitoring of digitization provided by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW). It was launched in 2008. The focus of the first year was to collect as much as possible credible data from heritage institutions and include them Numeric, a European heritage project. Niet (2010) states that a significant role in the process of data collection belonged to the institutions that were supposed to complete their responses to the survey. This intervention appeared to be time-consuming but provided relevant results. As a result, more than 130 institutions agreed to participate in the research on the progress of cultural heritage digitization in the Netherlands. After active interventions concerning digital heritage, the Netherlands was included in the European Commission Special Interest Group, SIG-STATS.

Application of 3D Technology in Digital Heritage

Pfarr-Harfst (2016) states that “three-dimensional (3D) computer models have been used as a medium of communication in the area of cultural heritage research and knowledge transfer since the 1980s” (p. 32). This method received broad application as a tool of popular science, for example, at the exhibitions. Stanco, Battiado, and Gallo (2011) claim that recently 3D modeling and 3D scanning were equally used to demonstrate and analyze objects of cultural heritage. 3D technology provides new tools “for the reconstruction and the virtual interaction with accurate digital 3D models, supporting accurate and flexible visualization features” (Stanco, Battiado, & Gallo, 2011, p. 38). It is also significant for diverse applications, including scientific visualization, architectural design, and graphics simulation. Another advantage of 3D technology used for the design of visualization tools for cultural heritage applications is the ease of its use. It is important for the users who include museum curators, restorers, art historians, or museum visitors, who are usually not skilled users of 3D graphics technologies.

Another issue regarded by Stanco, Battiado, and Gallo (2011) is the design of 3D applications or tools that assist experts in cultural heritage in their daily work. recently, the application of 3D graphics and 3D scanning for heritage preservation has been limited due to the costs of the necessary devices and the difficulty of the process. Moreover, there were not enough 3D professionals. Another reason preventing the broad application of 3D technology for cultural heritage, according to Stanco, Battiado, and Gallo (2011), was the lack of suitable applications that could allow experts to create 3D models of cultural heritage objects. Finally, some heritage practitioners still consider digital 3D models to be tools to access the public and not the efficient instruments for research and conservation of cultural heritage objects.

Stanco, Battiado, and Gallo (2011) also introduce computer-generated animations as the most popular way “to present digital 3D models or hypothetical reconstructions of CH artworks to the large public” (p. 39). At present, animation clips are the integral components of many art or history programs, and most high-budget movies apply 3D technology to restore the past.

Callet (2014) describes obtaining 3D data and 3D virtual and physical reproductions in the context of the framework of the experiments with museum artifacts. The author describes the experience in the sphere of cultural heritage and outlines the perspective for 3D technology in heritage preservations for the following to decades. Callet (2014) states that there are both scientific and technological problems in applying 3D technology. In addition, the researcher describes Spectroscopic Ellipsometry as a tool to receive “very accurate optical data on materials, i.e. complex indices of refraction” (Callet, 2014, p. 135). The author also claims there is a necessity for particular 3D methods able to capture transparent or glossy objects to empower the process of digital heritage preservation.

Galeazzi, Di Franco, and Matthews (2015) present the findings of two experiments aimed to compare 2D digital pictures and 3D digital replicas of artifacts. This comparison is conducted to reveal the differences in the abilities of these tools to assist the perception and understanding of past events. 2D digital pictures have been excessively used by archaeologists and museum experts to examine and study the objects of heritage. Recently, 3D technology was introduced to facilitate the studies more efficiently. However, both formats are still used. The experiment outcomes revealed that 3D digital copies of artifacts are more effective techniques of digital preservation of tangible cultural heritage. It can be explained by the fact that 3D multi-visualization improves the perception of physical characteristics of the heritage objects providing a more realistic image of these objects.

Digital Preservation of Architectural Heritage

Architecture is one of the most challenging types of cultural heritage to preserve. It demands much effort and the appropriate technologies. Yilmaz, Yakar, Gulec, and Dulgerler (2007) investigate the documentation of cultural heritage in general and architecture in particular. They outline the sources of information that can be used during the documentation and recording. These sources include “old photographs, old maps, old drawings and projects, civil and personal archives, pictures and gravures, archaeological data and travel notes” (Yilmaz et al., 2006, p. 429). However, before documentation and possible digitalization, it is necessary to evaluate the importance of a historical building in the field of architecture. In case the building testifies to a historical event in the past; is authentic; still preserves its original function; has legitimate documentation; is unique from the technical or structural position; or is of artistic or technical significance, it can be considered worthy preservation.

Yilmaz et al. (2006) suggest the application of digital close-range photogrammetry as a useful tool for the documentation and preservation of cultural heritage. A digital 3D model can be used to compare the condition of the building before and after restoration. Besides, this model can preserve the history of changes in the constitution of the building from the past till today which is a significant contribution for restorers and architects. However, the most meaningful purpose of cultural heritage preservation is its transmission to the next generations. Since photogrammetry manipulates only photographs and mathematical calculations, it can provide the “correct and accurate measurement of cultural heritage” (Yilmaz et al., 2006, p. 430). Finally, digital images of architectural heritage allow the evaluation of the expected restoration outcomes. Thus, photogrammetry can be recommended as an appropriate method for architecture restoration projects.


On the whole, the issue of digital heritage is complicated and demands careful considerations. A person has aesthetic, spiritual, and cultural needs that can be satisfied with the help of culture and heritage. The fact that cultural heritage preservation is a burning necessity is evident. The means used for this purpose change in the course of technology development. At present, digitalization is one of the primary instruments that can be applied to save the achievements of human civilization and wisdom of the generations and transfer them to the descendants. Digital heritage is not only of historical significance. It is also meaningful for government and education purposes. The governmental aspect comprises the concept of national identity that is formed on the basis of culture and history. The educational context, in its turn, treats cultural heritage as a fundamental background of our identity in the modern Knowledge Society.

Digital technologies are considered an effective tool for the preservation of cultural heritage. It enables not only preservation but also restoration of the existing or destroyed cultural objects. Such opportunities are widely used to develop digital heritage projects in Europe and around the world. The projects provide governmental support for cultural heritage initiatives and thus allow the preservation of outstanding artifacts. Among the contemporary technologies, 3D modeling and 3D scanning are the most suitable ones to empower the maintenance of cultural heritage. However, these technologies need some professional preparation and demand the appropriate software. Generally speaking, digital heritage is an innovative way to preserve the culture and history of the nations. It can be used in different settings including educational institutions, libraries, and museums. Thus, the primary goal of digital heritage to preserve and spread cultural and historic information will be achieved.


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