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Geographic Information Systems and Heritage Management - Computerised management of ancient sites

WHAT IS GIS?

A Geographic Information System is a set of computerized tools used to collect, archive, manage, retrieve, analyze and output geographic and other related kinds of attribute data.


A GIS records the geometry and location of real world features in layers of a digital (computerized) map. A computerized map can be likened to an atlas of a specified geographic area, in which each page contains different types of information - for example, topographic information, land use, elevation etc. When all layers are overlaid, a geographical database is created.


Data describing these features are stored in databases linked to each of the map layers. Information can be viewed either through a visual representation, or in tables. A computerized map, for example, showing the location of monuments might be attached to a database that records attributes such as construction dates, construction materials and condition of the monuments. 

WHY USE GIS TO DOCUMENT HERITAGE SITES?

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The 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (The World Heritage Convention) sets a number of basic documentation standards which are applicable to most heritage sites throughout the world. A GIS has a valuable application to each of the four principal procedures involved in preparing management plans for cultural heritage sites. These procedures are:
- Research: historical and physical site documentation
- Analysis: assessment of physical condition, cultural significance and the social and administrative context
- Response: preparing conservation and management strategies
- Implementation: carrying out, monitoring and evaluating management policies

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By using a GIS, heritage managers can:
- generate permanent records of heritage sites
- understand how cultural heritage relates spatially to its surrounding natural and human environment
- communicate knowledge and network databases
- test proposed development models and conservation strategies
- facilitate monitoring and management of sites

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ADVANTAGES OF GIS
GIS is a potentially powerful tool for the management of heritage sites as

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It enhances operational management capability;

It empowers heritage site managers, allowing them to participate more fully in the planning and co-ordinating activities of their own site, and the actions of other government departments and agencies;

Successful GIS implementation is not technically difficult;

Software can be run using low-end PCs and other enabling technologies are now relatively cheap and readily available

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UNESCO's GIS IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGY

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Although the safeguarding of heritage has always been a central concern of UNESCO, the focus on the use of modern electronic and computer-based information technologies to support this work is a relatively new initiative.

UNESCO first used computer-aided tools for archaeological site management in 1992 in assisting the Cambodian government to preserve the world heritage site of Angkor. At Angkor, UNESCO used this technology to bring together fragmentary data from many sources, creating a data bank to guide restoration work on the monuments and to aid in the creation of an economic and human resource development plan for the devastated surrounding area.

The Angkor Zoning and Environment Management Plan, successfully used GIS to integrate data from the fields of achaeology, geology, hydrology, climatology, environmental science and demography together with plans being prepared for the development of agriculture, irrigation, road construction and tourism.

Following the success of Angkor, GIS has been used by UNESCO at other pilot sites at Hue, Viet Nam and Vat Phu, Lao PDR as well as sites in Europe, Australia and North America where others have also been developing GIS-related applications for natural and cultural site management.

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FUTURE STRATEGIES
UNESCO's GIS strategy focuses on three main areas -

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Provision of GIS training and awareness programmes for heritage management professionals

Networking of World Heritage Site GIS users to facilitate the exchange of ideas, mutual support and technology transfer

Securing support and sponsorship from the private sector and from government agencies for the provision of GIS software, remote sensing data and technical support/input.

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UNESCO ACTIVITIES CONCERNING GIS
To increase awareness amongst cultural heritage management professionals on the capabilities of GIS UNESCO is developing the following tools -

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a hardcopy GIS awareness and field training manual has been developed: GIS and Cultural Resource Management: A Manual for Heritage Managers (the GIS Manual has already been translated into Chinese)

a CD-ROM and web-based versions of the this manual

Establishment of a World Heritage GIS user group 

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To enhance provision of GIS and cultural resource management education/training at a regional level, UNESCO will -

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Establish and support regional cultural heritage GIS training centres, under the umbrella of UNESCO chairs, as a tertiary training and GIS implementation resource (a first such UNESCO Chair has been established at Southeast University in Nanjing, China in 1999)

Develop regional GIS training/education programmes for cultural heritage management staff at operational/professional and managerial/political levels

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To assist potential users to access suitable software and support, UNESCO will -

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Identify suitable GIS software.

Obtain support/sponsorship from software vendors for heritage applications (discounted/free software, training and system support).

To assist site management agencies in acquisition of remote sensing data products and services, UNESCO will -

Establish co-operative agreements with private sector, governmental and military agencies for provision of image data and services for WHS documentation.

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To develop heritage site data standards, UNESCO will -

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Work with international and nation cultural resource management agencies to develop standards for digital heritage site documentation.

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- GIS and Cultural Resource Management
A Manual for Heritage Managers -
 
is for sale at UNESCO Principal Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
 
$ 40 per copy
 
To order please contact:
 
Office of the Regional Advisor for Culture in Asia and the Pacific,
UNESCO Principal Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
PO Box 967 Prakanong, Bangkok Thailand, 10110
Tel: (66 2) 391-0577 / 391-0550 ext. 501
Fax: (66 2) 391-0866
E-mail: culture@unescobkk.org