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3D Heritage Documentation
Digital Spatial Preservation of Cultural Heritage Sites and Landscapes
University of Cape Town


By creating metrically accurate digital representations of historical sites, the Zamani Project seeks to increase awareness and knowledge of tangible cultural heritage in Africa and internationally. Digital spatial data of cultural heritage sites can be used for research and education, for restoration and conservation and as a record for future generations.
The Zamani Project operates as a non-profit organisation within the University of Cape Town.

3D model of the Vatadage in Medirigiriya


Built during the Anuradhapura era some 2000 years ago, the Medirigiriya Vatadage is the centrepiece of a monastery, the Medirigiriya Watadageya.

3D Model of the Kubyauk-gyi Temple 


The ancient city of Bagan, in the Mandalay region of Myanmar, is renowned for its high number of Buddhist temples, edifices and pagodas. Between 2017-2018, the Zamani Project documented 10 monuments in Bagan.

The City Hall in 3D


The Zamani Project team documented this historical building in the centre of Cape Town between 2017-2018. The animated 3D model comprises detailed textures of the interior and exterior.   


The Zamani team documented the World Heritage site of
Fassil Ghebbi in Gondar, Ethiopia. 



One of the largest forced movements of people in human history was the transportation of slaves across the Atlantic Ocean between the 16th and 19th centuries, when more than 12 million Africans (mostly from Central and Western Africa) were forcibly taken out of Africa to the Americas.

The Slave Trade Story Map provides the possibility to interrogate statistical data on some 24 000 of nearly 36 000 recorded voyages on over 2400 slave ship routes. The statistical data were gathered by  Emory University’s Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database project and combined with spatial data produced by the Zamani team. This collection comprises data of castles and buildings used to imprison slaves prior to their embarking the slave ships.

>> Expore the Slave Trade Story Map 


The Zamani  Project is a research group at the University of Cape Town, which aims to capture spatial information of tangible cultural heritage sites across Africa and other parts of the world. Based on field campaigns and complex in-house processing, the team creates data sets that serve as permanent digital records for future generations. In addtion, Zamani data have been and are currently used for research, conservation, restoration and site management. Sites where conservation projects where Zamani data were employed  include the Palace Museum in Zanzibar, the Meroe Pyramids and the Temple complex of Musawwarat es-Sufra in Sudan, the Petra-Siq in Jordan, the Valley of the Queens in Egypt, the Wonderwerk Cave and Cape Town City hall in South Africa. The data also provide material for tourism and can contribute to international awareness of, especially African, heritage.

Digital collections of spatial data from African cultural heritage sites have become especially relevant in the context of ever-increasing man-made and natural threats such as climate change/sea-level rising, natural disasters, vandalism and wilful destruction, cultural terrorism, wars, mis-management of mass tourism, mining, construction of dams and the ravages of time. Thus historical, archaeological, cultural and anthropological information contained in cultural heritage sites is in danger of being lost.

To date, the Zamani Project has completed the documentation of some 65 heritage sites in 18 countries across Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. At these sites, more than 250 structures have been documented.  

3D model of Biet Giorgis


The Zamani Project documents cultural heritage worldwide with a focus on African sites.

The documentation aims to create digital records for future generations, to contribute to conservation, restoration, education, research and to contribute to the creation of awareness of heritage and African identity.

Underlying documentation principles are accuracy and authenticity.  

Fort St Sebastian Shama Top View


Spatial data of heritage sites are captured digitally using laser scanning, photogrammetry, drone and panorama photography as well as GNSS technology.

From the acquired data, 3D models, sections, plans, elevations, panoramas and panorama tours are generated.

These information form the basis of animations and interactive virtual worlds. 

Z&F Laser Scanner 5010c


Data are acquired during field campaigns which usually involve the entire team. The fieldwork varies in length and complexity depending on the documented structures and, sometimes more so, on local conditions, regulations and support.

Typical field campaigns extend from 10 to 14 days. In some cases, multiple visits are necessary, such as in Lalibela (Ethiopia) and Petra (Jordan) where up to 8 visits were required to acquire the desired data.

As a contribution to capacity building the team invites, wherever possible, staff from local heritage authorities as well as local students to participate in the fieldwork.

The Zamani Project team has also presented workshops or training courses on heritage documentation and GIS in Kenya, Tanzania/ Zanzibar, Ghana, Mozambique, Algeria, Myanmar, Jordan and South Africa.


The Zamani Project was conceptualised in 2001 by Professor Heinz Rüther - who is still the Principal Investigator of the project - at the University of Cape Town. Implementation of the “African Cultural Heritage Sites and Landscapes Database”, which is now known as the Zamani Project, began in 2004. The first field campaign undertaken by Zamani documented the Gereza in Kilwa later that year. 

To date, the team has documented some 65 sites (including over 250 structures) in 18 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The total data volume acquired to date is about 80 Terabyte. A list of all documented sites can be found here

Over the past 15 years the team has work with UNESCO, the World Monuments Fund, the Getty Conservation Institute, the German Archaeological Institute, the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board as well as individual researchers, heritage professional and academics worldwide. 

As technology advances and processing of data accelerates, the Zamani Project continues to evolve, exploring new documentation and visualisation technologies in order to increase accessibility to and relevance of the collection.

Examples for especially complex and extensive sites are Lalibela and Gondar in Ethiopia, Meroe in the Sudan, Petra in Jordan, Polonnaruwa and Medirigiriya in Sri Lanka and Bagan in Myanmar. 


Universtity of Cape Town UNESCO Zoller+Frohlich Capturing Reality Beuth University World Monuments Fund Jstor demax Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture of Myanmar university of Furtwangen

OptronAn Institute of the National Research Council of Italy Digital meets Culture Leica Geosystems

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University of Cape Town 
Library Road Menzies Building
5th floor, Rondebosch
Cape Town, 7700
South Africa


+27(0) 21 650 2327  
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