Project blog


Mali Mission

Documenting Our Heritage At Risk


Community-based mapping, modelling and monitoring of endangered heritage

Organisation: LSN Ltd

Partners: Endangered Archaeology in Middle East and North Africa project (EAMENA), Oxford University; Ptolemais-Hermiou, Sohag; Documentation and Archaeological Survey Project, Helwan University; Ministry of Egyptian Antiquities; Mali Mali; Inition

Location: Djenne, Mali

Type of grant: Core – recognition

Status: Completed

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  • This comparison of drone vs satellite images demonstrates their advantages. Source FSD Report

  • Credit: EAMENA. These three images of the 1st century AD Roman Didymoi Fort in the Eastern Desert of Egypt illustrate the power of analysing satellite images and comparing images over time. On the left an image of the fort captured in 2010; in the middle the same view captured three years later in 2013. In the right-hand image the EAMENA team has identified areas of significant destruction to the site, most likely caused by bulldozers. The red dashed line indicates the extent of the site and the damage is outlined in blue.

  • UN Peace keeping mission in Mali is one of the world's deadliest. Credit MINUSMA

  • Documents being scanned as part of the endangered archives programme.

  • Bogolan design being developed and printed by Mali Mali studio

  • detailed 3D models can be built up from a set of Aerial images which can serve as a detailed record to monitor a building or a site

  • Mapping requires careful management of the workflow from planning flight path, flight and image capture, image downloading and processing to creation of the map. Source FSD report

  • The FSD has report has documented examples of drone use as part of humanitarian responses throughout the World; however apart from mapping new applications are very much at the experimental stage. Source FSD Report

  • Building on a world leading programme to document endangered manuscripts that has been supported by the British Library and ARCADIA

  • Local training to introduce the opportunities created by aerial surveys using dones to map, model and monitor key endangered heritage sites

  • Djenne has a rich heritage and has now become isolated by the conflict in Mali

  • Anthony Sattin representing the mCubed team on the panel session at the international meeting held in Rome in conjunction with UNESCO

  • Activists, Academics and leaders from the world of heritage at a reception with the Italian Prime Minister, Paulo Gentiloni

  • Nicholas Mellor, LSN mCubed project leader meeting the Italian Prime Minister, Paulo Gentiloni


Building on advances in consumer UAVs, photogrammetry and augmented reality to re-imagine how we can empower communities that are stewards of heritage sites around the world facing conflict, encroachment or natural hazards such as flooding.


Cultural heritage is increasingly threatened by conflict and environmental factors.

How communities connect with their heritage can affect its preservation as well as jobs and revenue where there has been tourism in the past or scope for tourism in the future.

Heritage stewardship can be an instrument to promote stabilisation and in building communities that are more resilient. Equally heritage and history can prove divisive, hence the importance of understanding how to address heritage stewardship in a conflict-sensitive way.

With resources always scarce, this project also looks at the smart use of consumer technology to empower local champions.


The convergence of five factors have made this possible:

  • Consumer electronics
    1. Transforming cost and functionality
    2. Accessibility and ease of use
  • Image sensors
    1. High fidelity data
    2. Hyperspectral – seeing the invisible
  • Connectivity
    1. Saas Model
    2. Data sharing
    3. Remote expert mentoring
  • Smart phone literacy
    1. Access
    2. Local processing power
  • 3 D rendering and visualisation
    1. Value add
    2. Engagement and understanding
    3. From virtual to augmented reality

Compact ‘consumer’ UAVs have been used in the humanitarian response to map. We will be taking this idea further to enable communities to model and monitor key buildings and sites; and to experience and share the data in a richer, more intuitive way.

This could have valuable spin offs for the community, beyond just heritage stewardship.


A detailed plan for a pilot project that would demonstrate:

  • local ownership
  • the potential to be replicated and
  • a business model that might sustain this approach.

In addition it will provide a practical demonstration of community based heritage stewardship in an area affected by conflict and environmental challenges.

Why is this important?

Heritage is not only a visual witness of human civilisation it is also an integral part of a society´s collective memory and being. By protecting heritage and safeguarding it for future generations we are not only saving history we are also saving lives by reminding individuals of the past of their communities and the landscapes they inhabit. Protecting such sites in times of conflict requires an approach that is both conflict-sensitive as well as coherent with the humanitarian response. Designed in an appropriate way such a response could complement and enhance the traditional humanitarian response.


Elrha is a registered charity in England and Wales (1177110).

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