Archaeologists plan to "flood" the Middle East with 3D cameras to combat the destruction of ancient sites in the Middle East by Islamic State (IS).
The terrorist group has been destroying ancient relics that it claims promotes idolatry, as well as selling looted artefacts to private dealers. IS is currently in the process of systematically demolishing the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra - a Unesco World Heritage site - including the 2,000-year-old temple of Baalshamin.
In response, a team of scientists at Oxford and Harvard universities plan to distribute 5,000 cameras to war zones by the end of this year to help build up a catalogue of 3D scans of buildings and artefacts of historical significance, preserving knowledge of them should they be destroyed.
Roger Michel, director of the Oxford-based Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA), told the Times "Palmyra is rapidly becoming the symbol of Isis's cultural iconoclasm.
"If Isis is permitted to wipe the slate clean and rewrite the history of a region that defined global aesthetic and political sensibilities, we will collectively suffer a costly and irreversible defeat.
"But there is hope. By placing the record of our past in the digital realm, it will lie forever beyond the reach of vandals and terrorists."
The so-called Million Image Database Project is a collaboration between the IDA and Unesco and hopes to capture one million images by the end of 2016 using 3D cameras modified so "inexperienced users", such as museum workers, military personnel and charity volunteers, can upload images directly to a database at New York University.
The hope is that the resulting images will be detailed enough to be able to recreate the buildings or artefacts using 3D printers if they are subsequently destroyed.
A description of the project on the IDA website said: "We hope to capture one million 3D images of at-risk objects by the end of 2016. To that end, we have created a heavily modified version of an inexpensive consumer 3D camera that will permit inexperienced users to capture archival-quality scans.
"This project is the first of its kind in both purpose and scale. However, it is our hope that it will become a model for future similar endeavours. All of the associated technology and software will be open-source to facilitate that goal."
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