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Remote Sensing Science Center for Cultural Heritage

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ATHENA (Remote Sensing Science Center for Cultural Heritage)

Reporting period: 2017-03-01 to 2018-11-30

In periods of economic instability, national considerations are overruling the process of European integration. Cultural Heritage (CH) is an integral element of a European set of values and respect for heritage is vital for developing a common European identity. The CH sector has always been facing a number of challenges that have increased with the financial crisis that has hit Europe. Amongst others, these challenges include the decrease of public budgets, urbanisation, globalisation and technological changes. Within this context, CH professionals are seeking to improve currently used methodologies, in order to better understand, protect and valorise the common European past and common identity.

ATHENA project seeks to improve and expand the capabilities of collaboration between low performing and leading institutions, involving professionals dealing with remote sensing technologies for supporting CH sector, as well as experts in the field of remote sensing applications for archaeological and cultural heritage issues. The integration of RS data with other information related with traditional archaeological research, historic socio-economic data and landscape information can be performed in geographical information systems, targeting for Cultural Heritage preservation and consists one of the innovation aspects of ATHENA project.

ATHENA is further exploiting the current capabilities of Cyprus University of Technology (CUT), both in terms of capacity as well of equipment, performing advance research and support to the CH sector. CUT aims to be in close collaboration with both national and international research institutes and stakeholders, providing integrated remote sensing services and solutions beyond Cyprus, in the Eastern Mediterranean. For this reason, two leading institutions of Europe namely the National Research Council (CNR) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) will assist in this direction.

The project focuses on the knowledge related to cultural heritage implementing actions based on multidisciplinary collaborations and closes the gap between cross-disciplinary research and exploitation methods through different scientific domains such as history, archaeology, architecture, urban design, sociology, anthropology, engineering, and computer sciences using remote sensing technologies. Innovation in the ATHENA project directly and indirectly benefits the project consortium as well as associated stakeholders. The combination of innovative methodologies to enhance the understanding of European CH by means of remote sensing techniques will bring new knowledge and collaboration across disciplines, while the innovative procedures and applications will enable remote communication and collaboration across the industry, professionals, experts, researchers and academia.
Since the beginning of the project tentative and systematic multi-level work has been carried out including training activities such as summer schools, workshops, hands on trainings using nondestructive techniques, short term staff exchange etc., from the high performing institutes participating to the ATHENA project (i.e. National Research Council – CNR- and the German Aerospace Center - DLR) to Host Organization’s staff (i.e. Cyprus University of Technology - CUT), meetings with key-stakeholders locally and internationally, participation to scientific conferences etc. Furthermore, various dissemination activities targeting the non-academic audience but the wider society as well as elementary and secondary education students and teachers have been accomplished. All actions are exposed in formal portal of the project, ATHENA website ( alongside with educational material, leaflets and publications.

The knowledge gained so far by the low performing country has been transformed into published and open access material, through publications in high impact scientific journals and international conferences papers. Other non-scientific material (including leaflets, newsletters etc.) has also been used to disseminate the project in various occasions.

The ATHENA project has already achieved to bring a positive effect to the Host Organization’s staff, improving their knowledge in new cutting-edge technologies such as optical SAR data, hyperspectral instruments, geophysical prospection etc. At the same time researchers working in the ATHENA project have capitalized this knowledge by the forthcoming organizations of high scientific international conferences and sessions such as the EarSEL Cultural Heritage (to be organized in 2018), CAA-Gr (to be organized in 2018) and EGU special session (to be organized in 2017). In addition, and beyond to the ATHENA deliverables, it is expected that a scientific book under the Springer to be published by the end of next year.

Moreover, ATHENA has contributed that the European Copernicus programme is evaluating the monitoring of endangered CH sites will become a core Copernicus application. A topic workshop under the chair of the Copernicus office will be held in Brussels, April 24th, 2017. ATHENA projects partners are involved in this workshop and share results and findings of the ATHENA project.
The hitherto outcomes of the ATHENA project have demonstrated a scientific progress beyond the state of the art. This is reflected mainly in the research conducted by the project’s consortium members and the relevant publications. These include innovative topics such as the automatic detection of destroyed monuments and sites in the Palmyra region, based on high resolution optical data, the use of big data infrastructures for multi-temporal monitoring of UNESCO World Heritage sites, as well as stability analysis of underground ancient structures (Hellenistic tombs).

The aforementioned achieved scientific innovation has positive impact in socio-economic and societal level since it deals with monitoring and protection of world’ s monument sites, while the development of novel methodologies towards this direction, could function as strategic protection tools.

Wider societal implications of the project can be seen in the memorandum of understanding between the HO and local stakeholders in terms of attending issues on a governmental level through the knowledge of the ATHENA Center of Excellence research staff. This issues are related from one hand to the protection and monitoring of Cultural Heritage sites operating remote sensing techniques and on the other assisting local authorities towards modern infrastructural development that might affect unknown buried antiquities in vast territorial areas. Furthermore, a progress has been done in relation to the elementary and secondary educational system of Cyprus, since ATHENA project has been infiltrated to schools while a productive feedback was provided both by students and teachers in relation to the upgrading of young people knowledge and curiosities around science and towards contemporary scientific and technological achievements.

Apart from the preservation of Cultural Heritage, ATHENA can be seen as a Centre of knowledge and a standard lab in the field of Remote Sensing Archaeology for the easternmost part of Europe, especially in the light of the new perspectives on archaeological and cultural heritage in the Mediterranean region, operating thus as an “open school” for scholars, researches and professionals of the related fields, having thus another strong societal impact.
Detection of buried archaeological remains. Palmori archaeological site from GeoEye satellite image
Destruction of cultural heritage from space. WorldView-2 image over Palmyra archaeological site