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MATRIX goes to Dakar

26 October on Announcements, Project Highlights   Tags:

From May 4 to May 14, 2015, MATRIX Director Dean Rehberger and Digital Media Lab Director Mike Green went to Dakar, Senegal, to further work on the Gorée Island Archaeological Digital Repository, an open-access online database of the area’s cultural heritage artifacts.

This trip’s goal was the continuation of digitizing the Senegalese artifacts, sending them through the process of stereophotogrammetry, which involves taking 50-100 photos of a still object in order to create a relatively inexpensive 3D representation. While most of the attention goes to slave trade artifacts, the team also worked on newer documents, such as Gorée Island guest books from recent decades. The island, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, receives 200,000 visitors annually.

Rehberger says that while only some of the materials are in immediate danger of loss, the main focus of the project is to increase the archive’s capacity to digitally document the collection.

“We hope to preserve the artifacts digitally because the capacity to maintain the physical objects is not sustainable or efficient,” Green said.

Project manager Adama Athie (left) and Moussou (right) experiment with masking 2D images to construct 3D representations of artifacts for the Gorée Island Archaeological Digital Repository.

Green and Rehberger spent most of their time working with colleagues in the digital archaeology lab at the IFAN Museum of African Arts at the University of Dakar alongside Dr. Ibrahima Thiaw, director of the laboratory. The team scanned artifacts, altered settings and tested exportation of the objects.

“Now that the team has been more cemented, the focus has been less on the training and comprehension of the equipment,” Green said. “It was more of the collaborative [and] experimenting phase.”

The team surpassed its production goals for the trip, with Green calling his time in Dakar a “huge success.” Moreover, the work did not stop when Rehberger and Green left. Project manager Adama Athie has continued work on the repository, completing nearly two dozen additional scans as of July 2015.

“All the models look fantastic,” Green said.

This was not the team’s first Dakar experience. Green previously visited in Dec. 2012, Jan. 2014 and Oct. 2014. Rehberger did not accompany Green on the January trip but had visited the region twice before for other projects. The initial trip in 2012 revolved around implementing the Smithsonian-funded Gorée Island Digital Repository, as well as training local students in stereophotogrammetry.

Green and Rehberger’s continued trips to Dakar reflect their self-stated goal of sustainability. MATRIX has been working with IFAN and the West African Research Association since the 1990s.

“Too often projects have funding and training for a short period and then leave,” Rehberger said. “We want to build a sustainable partnership that creates a space for collaboration and growth.”

The team will return to the region in February of 2016 to present their project at an academic conference.


By: Darby Hopper