The Egyptian cultural heritage, which is renowned throughout history for its diversity and richness, is the heritage of all humanity. This makes the preservation of that heritage, as well as its sustainable development, a prime concern of the Egyptian state, due to the associated cultural, social, and economic implications. Taking into account the major role that scientific research plays in achieving this aim, the Newton-Mosharafa Fund aims to develop the Egyptian cultural heritage as one of its priorities to support scientific research and innovation in Egypt.
Here are four inspiring stories of male and female researchers seeking to protect and develop Egypt's cultural heritage on various levels. This is done through the preservation and sustainable development of archaeological villages in Upper Egypt, the development of digital technologies to preserve historic buildings, the use of augmented reality to enrich the tourist experience and building the capacity of Egyptian women researchers in the field of cultural heritage.
Preserving cultural heritage and enhancing the sustainability of ancient villages
The ancient village of Shutb is located five kilometres south of the Egyptian city of Assiut. This village was built on the ruins of the city of Shashotep, which was a regional center and capital of the Eleventh District in Upper Egypt around 2000 BC. Preserving cultural heritage in Upper Egypt, specifically in the village of Shutb, in sustainable ways is the goal of Ilona Regulski, a researcher at the British Museum, through her joint research project supported by the Newton-Mosharafa Fund.
The Egyptian-British research team was able to draw a map of Egyptian heritage in Assiut, with the aim of preserving that heritage and presenting it to the world. This is done by reviewing the history of a number of multi-layered archaeological areas during the period between 3000 BC and the present day, as well as studying the reactions of the local communities living in those areas towards their cultural heritage. Shutb village is a model for these studies.
'The project aims to achieve several goals, perhaps the most important of which is the reconstruction of the 4,500-year-old history of the village of Shutb, about which no archaeological information is available. In addition, it aims to preserve the quality of the local architecture and its historical facades,' Ilona explains.
The project, funded by the Newton-Mosharafa Fund, did not stop at the academic research activity, as it aimed at empowering the villagers and involving them in the activities of the project. The project also attempted to attract the interest of the villagers towards the cultural heritage of the village. This was done through a variety of activities including workshops, training sessions, and other events.
Besides workshops and training, the project activities included tours for young people to draw the characteristic features of vernacular architecture in the village, and artistic activities aimed at designing propaganda materials to promote the village as a tourist attraction, in addition to storytelling events in order to narrate ancient Egyptian stories.
Ilona’s project also produced a series of publications in Arabic and English on the village's cultural heritage, developed a set of interactive tools, and produced three films, including the film "Have You Heard of Shutb village?" which was shortlisted in a film competition.
All these efforts come within the framework of sustainable development in accordance with Egypt Vision 2030 as well as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The research project aims to build sustainable cities and communities through the restoration of the architecture of the local village of Shutb, as well as the development of education by sharing the results of new studies in order to raise awareness of history and heritage.
Digital technologies to preserve historic buildings
Preserving Egyptian cultural heritage is a major responsibility of all members of society, especially scientists and researchers. This is the responsibility of Mohamed Marzouk, a professor at Cairo University in Egypt, who is working on a research project in cooperation with Middlesex University in the UK.
The project, funded by the Newton-Mosharafa Fund aims to implement the necessary sustainability measures to preserve Egyptian archaeological sites. This is done through the development of an integrated system that contributes to the construction of plans to preserve historic buildings, and the profound understanding of those buildings in order to maintain their condition and ensure the accuracy of their redesign decisions before implementing them on the ground.
Mohamed was able to develop a framework for the restoration of historic buildings using several digital technologies, the foremost of which is the Historic Building Information Modelling (HBIM). Hence, technological methods are used to create digital models of the physical and functional properties of buildings.
“We have developed an integrated framework that combines 3D laser scanning techniques, Historic Building Information Modelling (HBIM), and virtual reality to adapt archaeological buildings to environmental and urban conditions and contribute to their reuse,” Mohamed explains.
The research project goes further to conduct an environmental analysis in order to assess the efficiency of the current state of historic buildings and determine the target state in the future. Several surveys based on virtual reality technology have been conducted to predict potential users' preferences and behaviours, to ensure that historic buildings are rehabilitated in the best possible way.
All this is part of the sustainable development of Egyptian heritage. “The vision of the project is in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 11, which aims to ensure the development of sustainable cities and local communities by enhancing efforts to protect the world's cultural and natural heritage,” Mohamed clarifies.
In addition, Mohamed points out that the intensive cooperation and excellent communication between the Egyptian and British scientific institutions through the research project has contributed to the development and reinforcement of his academic and practical competencies, consequently, having a significant impact on his career as a researcher protecting Egypt's cultural heritage.
Augmented Reality Technology to Enrich Egyptian Tourism
'I want museum visitors to live in a world similar to what we all saw in 'Night at the Museum' movie, to have an unforgettable experience!'
This is what Rami Hammadi, a researcher at Helwan University in Egypt, is seeking to implement in Egyptian museums through a research project in cooperation with the University of Huddersfield in the United Kingdom.
The Eye of the Museum is a product of the Hammadi Research Project supported by the Newton-Mosharafa Fund, which aims to develop the visitor experience in open and closed museums and enhance their immersion in that experience. The idea of the project is to build a hologram system that allows visitors to museums to see historical figures, learn about Egyptian cultural heritage, and listen to the stories of Egyptian civilization and its historical events, by living in the world of those events.
Rami explains that this is done based on augmented reality techniques that allow the combination of the real environment in which the tourist is located, and the imaginary holograms at the same time. Museum’s visitors wearing Virtual Reality glasses can enter a virtual world including holograms that visitors can interact with realistically, turning the visit into an interactive and memorable experience.
Through the project, Rami re-enacted the war world of the ancient Egyptian state, showcasing visual sculptures of soldiers and military vehicles to visitors, and offered them the opportunity to test the lives of archaeologists and explorers for one day in order to search for treasures inside the museum.
'I am also combining extended reality and artificial intelligence technologies to be used in museums to enrich the visitors' experience and increase their interaction during their visits, rather than relying on pre-recorded audio recordings.' Rami explains.
The aim of this research project is not only to develop scientific research in the field of cultural heritage but also to contribute to the development of various Egyptian museums. This will help attract more tourists from around the world, which is especially important for the economy and sustainable growth of Egypt.
Building capacity in cultural heritage management
Outside the walls of laboratories and among the sands of the desert, Joanne Rowland, a lecturer in archaeology at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, leads a team of researchers to uncover a forgotten part of Egypt's history. The joint research project between the University of Edinburgh and The Université Française d’Égypte aims to rediscover prehistory and early history in Egypt, as well as to build capacity in the field of cultural heritage management related to that forgotten period.
The project, funded by the Newton-Mosharafa Fund, has contributed to the empowerment of women in a field that until recently was a male preserve.
'Through our project women have been empowered as equal members as trainers and trainees in the field,' Joanne explains. 'The participation of women of all ages and professional levels has benefited everyone, as they provided diverse views and experiences, which they will continue to provide in the fields of research and heritage management in Egypt,' she adds.