Yakut experts to make 3D models of endangered cave drawings
YAKUTSK, June 21. /TASS/. Archaeologists plan to go to Yakutia's Khangalassky District to digitalize cave drawings and to make their 3D models, junior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Siberian Branch's Institute of Humanitarian Studies and Problems of the North's Low-Numbered Peoples Egor Nikolayev told TASS.
"Yakutia faces a big problem of destroying rock art objects as vandals make inscriptions on them. These objects need to be preserved, and 3D models, in our opinion, is the most preferable option. The project has been launched, and this year specialists will visit those objects to make their 3D models," he said.
The project is a part of the "Digital technologies in preservation of the Russian North-East's indigenous people's ethnic, cultural and linguistic heritage" direction at the North scientific and educational center.
Ancient images are found on rocks and in caves near many rivers in Yakutia, including the biggest rivers - the Lena, the Aldan, the Indigirka, the Olekma, he continued. The first destination, where archaeologists will go this year, will be the Khangalassky District. The reason for this choice is that the district has a good transport connection and it is a big attraction for tourists who want to see the rock art. Therefore, the ancient culture objects there require preservation first of all, the scientist explained. Experts will go there in late August or in early September.
"In 2017, we had an expedition along the Maya River, where we monitored conditions of earlier identified rock drawings. Back then we found that many images were lost as the rocks had crumbled and collapsed. In addition to that, many tourists write their names [on the rocks above the images], some even try to [pick] the images, to scratch them," the expert said.
The method the scientists used is to make a photogrammetry - a large number of photos from various angles, which later on are processed by a special software. This way, appears a 3D model of the surface with drawings on it. These drawings may be exposed in museums and may be included into virtual VR tours. The archaeologists will be using digital cameras and drones, and in trips to hard-to-reach areas they will use climbing equipment.
"I wish in future we could create digital copies of all the found objects," the scientist added.
The rock art in Yakutia mainly features anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures. Quite clear are figures of moose and deer, as well as geometric images and amorphous spots. According to Nikolay Makarov, head of Yakutia's department for protection of cultural heritage objects, 114 images aged from the Neolithic to the Middle Ages are under the region's protection, and experts have been working to put on that list another image in the city of Yakutsk. Most rock drawings are found in the Olekminsky and Khangalassky districts. Some of the drawings have been found in other locations, including in the region's Arctic areas.
Rock art in Yakutia has been studied since the pre-revolutionary times (prior to 1917). Nevertheless, the first drawings were taken under protection only in 1976, and it was back in 2008 that the regional government issued an order to preserve another 104 images.
"Our department periodically conducts field surveys to assess the objects' conditions," the official said. "For example, we went to Yakutia's Olekminsky district, which keeps magnificent archaeological monuments, in 2019 and in 2022. There, for example, is the [famous monument] Suruktah-Khaya (translated from the Yakut language as "Painted Mountain" - TASS)".
Suruktakh-Khaya is the only monument of rock art in Yakutia, where a large number of drawings are located on one rock - 117 ancient images were described in the past. However, the expedition in 2019 found there only about 20 drawings. "Over 80 years, the drawings were lost forever. It is difficult to say whether this is due to human activities. Back then we explained the loss by the more humid climate, since the drawings are mostly in sandstones and limestones, and thus they crack and disappear," he continued.
Another version how the images could disappear is associated with ocher, which was used in the drawings - the stone had absorbed its pigments for centuries. Thus, quite often drawings are eroded by rains. They are preserved worse than petroglyphs carved on stones. Another concern that worries scientists is the drawings to which may tourists come. A lot depends on tour operators and guides who can control how the visitors behave there, he said.
There is no unique solution to how to preserve the rock art objects in Yakutia, he continued. Digitalization is the way to have those images remain in history, but the problem of preserving the drawings still remains. "Our department is involved more in protection of all types of architectural monuments, archaeological monuments, and as for the drawings - there is still no unique solution, and this issue remains of top importance," he concluded.