CIO Talk

World Heritage Day: How can Big Data help conserve India’s historical sites

Muqbil Ahmar, Technology Evangelist
Muqbil Ahmar, Technology Evangelist

Medieval India ruler Firoz Shah Tughlaq built ‘Kushk-i-Shikar’ or the ‘Kushk-i-Jahan-Numa’ as part of a hunting palace. The structure or the baoli which sits next to Pir Ghaib is now completely hidden from view due to adjacent buildings and structures. The degradation is such that it also doubles up as a temporary washroom for people nearby. Such is the state of affairs of cultural heritage conservation in India. Similarly, there was a baoli (stepwell) in southwest Tughlaqabad, Delhi. According to a visiting Japanese team that surveyed the site (and more than 400 other monuments) many striking mosques as well as tombs have disappeared from the site, whereas others can barely be recognized.

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Muqbil Ahmar is an avid blogger, a consummate writer, and a technology evangelist—but basically a storyteller at heart. Writing and music are his passions. He writes on startups and technology across various media platforms. He writes on topics ranging from movies to startups to technology to environmental conservation. He is the editor and author of the Run Your Business Blog. With more than 10 years of experience in journalism, he has enjoyed stints with TV, magazines, and the Web. He believes that all human endeavor should be aimed at making our lives a better one. You can tweet him at @muqbil_ahmar or connect with him through LinkedIn and Facebook.

Muqbil Ahmar
Technology Evangelist


In a report on preservation of monuments and antiquities (2013), the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) notes “irregularities in carrying out conservation works,” laying down shortcomings. The Archeological Survey of India has more than 3,600 monuments, 100,000 rare books, original drawings, plates, and manuscripts. However, the CAG audit report points out that of the 1,538 monuments that were surveyed—of the 3,600 structures that come under the ambit of ASI—around 81 are missing. The agency has been terribly short in its efforts and its methods are archaic and outdated. Let’s see how modern technology can be leveraged to save our cultural heritage.

Big data platforms can lead to collaborative preservation efforts

Big Data is terminology for datasets that are so complex or huge that traditional data-processing is insufficient. Datasets are analyzed to uncover unknown correlations and hidden patterns. Mathematical and statistical tools together with algorithms are used to discover trends and make predictions.

What is being increasingly termed as cyber archaeology, the latest tools can help agencies capture digital information, store, collaborate, share, and display data for the public and researchers. Archaeologists must access to new and evolving digital tools. Datasets including high-definition videos and photos, laser scans, aerial drone footage, together with detailed climate measurements can be analyzed and help in heritage preservation efforts. Additionally, complex data derived from satellite imagery, drones, 3-D data capture, etc. can be pulled out for easy analysis and monitoring of historical sites.

Such Big Data tools can facilitate collaborative efforts between agencies, academia and industry. Together with real-time intelligence, it can go a long way in ensuring a fully digitized cultural heritage, which is totally archaeology-oriented. Big Data tools can also aid in correlational studies of demographic data, regional climate, and cultural and technological change at a scale which wasn’t possible earlier. The Big Data platform can enable detailed studies of climate change, human conflicts, pollution, natural disasters, etc. that affect archaeological sites for better heritage preservation.

Modern technologies can provide insights into complex problems, translating into higher chances of solving them. Our role is to quickly leverage the fast-evolving technology so that the remaining cultural and historical heritage live on to see another day. And the time to act is now.

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