Meet the scientists immortalizing African heritage in virtual reality

Story highlights

  • The project aims to preserve heritage sites for future generations
  • Using high-tech lasers and drones the team record sites

(CNN)The archaeological wonders of the world offer a rich window into the past. But many are crumbling, weed-laden and victim to vandalism and conflict.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as those in Libya and Mali, have been caught in the crossfire of regional disputes.
    Concerned with the decay of African heritage sites, The Zamani Project, based at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, is seeking to immortalize historic spots in three-dimensional, virtual reality-ready models.
      Professor Heinz Ruther steers the project. He ventures up and down the continent -- visiting Ghana, Tanzania, Mali, Ethiopia, Kenya and elsewhere -- recording in remarkable detail the structure and condition of tombs, churches and other buildings.
      "I've seen how sites are deteriorating visibly," Ruther told CNN.
      The project's aim is to build a database of complex, lifelike 3-D models. Presently, they've mapped around 60 sites including Lalibela in Ethiopia, Timbuktu in Mali and Kilwa in Tanzania.