In creating this project my idea was to use Google Glass and the iPad Structure Sensor in the Paris catacombs for cataloguing, mapping, safety, and documentation purposes. I had very specific plans for the Google Glass and Structure Sensor respectively, and I will elaborate upon that here.
Cataloguing the Dead:
There are millions of skulls in the catacombs, each with their own story. Dents and pockmarks in the bone indicate illnesses, wounds, and other factors that might indicate when that individual lived and what their life was like. Despite the constant threat of collapsing rooms taking all the skulls out of the catacombs and preserving them elsewhere makes no sense. The whole point in taking them down to the catacombs in the first place was a combination of many skulls in not much space, and that was before Paris had had another 200+ years to grow. With the Structure Sensor, one could however create a 3-dimensional scan of each skull and save those scans into one giant catalogue of skulls for future analysis. While I did not have the means to make such a scan myself, an example of one of these scans might look something like this:
The Room Scanner feature of the Structure Sensor would also be very useful underground. Being able to create panoramic scans of rooms that might look something like this:
would be perfect for creating a digital catalogue of the chambers of the catacombs that could be used for looking at their architecture and analyzing the rooms in a historical context. Having images of each room would also be helpful for the government inspectors in charge of checking on how structurally sound the catacombs are (they have a historically bad habit of collapsing…). Images could show cracks in walls or columns, and inspectors could later use these as a reference point to see if fractures had worsened or stayed the same.
The Room Scanning also works into the mapping I would hope to do with the Google Glass. The Parisian catacombs are by no means known for being easy to navigate; even government inspectors and experienced explorers of the catacombs must be careful to make sure they do not get lost. With this in mind a map would obviously be incredibly helpful, and a digital one that could continuously be edited? Even better. With Google Glass, an explorer or inspector could take first-person photos and videos (while still keep their hands free for climbing and such) which could then be compiled to create a first-person map of the catacombs. The Room Scans I discussed before could also be added into this compilation. When an individual wearing Google Glass stepped out of a tunnel into a room, they could open that room’s scan and view it (sort of like going into Street View on Google Maps). This might be to compare the room with the scan and see if any new cracks have formed or rocks have shifted, or simply to see if the room one is in is the same as the one in the scan. As I mentioned before, wrong turns are easy to make…
How do you put it all together?
Making a comprehensive map of the catacombs is one thing, but unless it is accessible to people it’s virtually useless. To make it accessible, the best format might be some sort of collaborative online space. It could function somewhat like Wikipedia, with individuals being able to freely contribute. Individuals could go to the website and simply upload their videos and images to the larger databank, either expanding upon the map or adding detail to already-covered areas.
There would probably have to be multiple of these collaborative spaces. It would be most useful for both explorers and inspectors to have access to such maps, but the two are legally opposed. Because of this it would be practical to have one publicly accessible space for civilian mapping, and a private space that inspectors used for mapping; if they knew inspectors were working off of the maps they were working to create, it’s dubious that explorers would continue to participate in the project.
Overall I think the use of these digital humanities tools in the Paris catacombs could be extraordinarily useful. They could be used to make important historical, archaeological, practical, and safety-improving contributions, and help us to learn more about the city’s past and present while also preventing another one of these: