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Kenyan museum curators embark on historic digitalisation project

Kenyan museum curators embark on historic digitalisation project

The National Museums of Kenya (NMK) has partnered with Amazon Web Services and Intel to create a virtual museum and digitally document the East African country's cultural and natural heritage.

The heritage is described as one of the largest collections of archaeology and palaeontology globally, and includes 6 -million years of humankind's palaeontology and 3.3 million years of cultural evolution. The collection houses millions of fossils dating back to the Oligocene era from 27-million years ago, and includes some of the best-preserved hominid specimens.

Stakeholders have quantified the scope of the project and this covers defining the ontologies for the collections, building the database and training personnel to enter information in the database, undertaking the digitalisation and then building the virtual museum website.

The first phase of the project will involve digitalisation of the most culturally and scientifically significant artefacts and fossil specimens in each collection, the creation of digital archives platform and an interactive website.

"The platform will be hosted on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud and will leverage the large scale storage capabilities provided by services such as S3 and CloudFront to enable new pathways to learning including exposure to digital artefacts and richer more interactive in-museum experiences. Other planned initiatives include leveraging our global content delivery network, enabling researchers to engage with high powered, serverless computing capabilities such as Amazon Athena to facilitate S3-based data analysis, and the development of voice driven content and interactions powered by Amazon Lex and Polly," reads a statement issued by the curators of NMK.

They have also underlined the knowledge transfer component of the project and say this is a key spin-off benefit. "A project of the scale of National Museums of Kenya (NMK) allows our technology partner AWS and Digital Divide Data (DDD) the opportunity to provide competency-based training to Kenyan youth in areas of digitisation, cloud services, mobile technologies, and database administration."

However, the main driver behind the project is to facilitate easier and more widespread access to this material for the general public and the international scientific and research community.

People "will be able to virtually access complex and detailed data sets, GIS information, 3D models on specimens and artefacts through the digital archive. This will act as a catalyst to accelerate research and data analysis and hopefully provide opportunities for new research projects and discoveries," the curators add.

They says that in the last 15 years or so there has been an increased effort by most museums and research institutions globally to create databases and share information.

"The right partners in AWS, Intel and DDD came together at a time when the technology is available to perform this critical work. The availability of Amazon's cloud technology greatly enhances the accessibility of the collection. In addition, through the workforce development programs DDD operates in Kenya, and the launch of the AWS and DDD's Cloud Academy, we have access to a trained local workforce for the digitisation effort and work to increase capacity in that country," say the curators.

The hope is that the project will serve as a national model for digital preservation of artefacts that can be replicable across Kenya and other African countries.

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