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Afghan Community Information System for Cultural Heritage Management



Cultural heritage worldwide faces damages resulting from the nature and human. The problem is especially severe in Afghanistan during the civil war and Taliban regime in the last 20 years. Since Afghanistan was on the way to democracy, many organizations around the word have made great effort to make up for the break of cultural heritage management there. Under the appeals and guidance of UNESCO, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) Germany cooperates with Department of Urban History (Prof. Dr. Jansen), RWTH Aachen University to recover the cultural heritage. Cultural heritage management includes documentation, evaluation of conservation measures and execution of measures etc. Therefore, along with the practical conservation work, the department had developed an MS Access-based database application for documentation. However, the limitations of the existing personal database management system cause problems during its use. . We solve these problems in tight cooperation with the Department of Urban History and the Department of Information Systems and Database Technology (Prof. Dr. Jarke), RWTH Aachen by the creation of a sustainable business application. 

Our aim is to provide communities with a cheap, long-lasting, and flexible mobile business application environment allowing them to build up the disaster struck area more or less self-organizing. Additionally, networked experts from all over the world may contribute to the overall process without requiring them to be physically present.  

Our main work has been focusing on  four major aspects. First, a great amount of information including spatial information, text documents, pictures, and audio-visual data needs to be managed for information search, retrieval and exchange. Second, many researchers and scientists working in this field are resided all over the world needing a channel to communicate and cooperate. Third, intergenerational cooperation is required, because no cultural heritage management work was done over two decades on site in Afghanistan resulting in a gap between the experiences accumulated by the prior generations and those collected newly. Finally, the information need to be shared by various organizations and individuals in fields such as tourism, museums, e-learning etc.

Concepts and Requirements Analysis

ACIS proposes a trust building community approach that provides users in whatever country all over the world an option for a sustainable relief work by means of information systems. With regard to the existing problems in the MS Access-based application, the new system,

  • Community: The potential users come from three sectors: Government and administration sector such as members of UNESCO, Research sector such as students and lecturers of different majors, and Preservation sector such as engineers and scientists in the cultural heritage conservation field. The concept of a community of practice (s. [1]) provides diverse communication channels for an intra-generational and intergenerational, as well as intra- and interdisciplinary cooperation.
  • Geographic Information System (GIS): A great amount of information stored in the database pertains to sites and monuments in Afghanistan and has their geographic location information. Textual information alone with latitude and longitude input can not represent the spatial information properly and efficiently. Thus, GPS and the significant open geospatial standards implemented by OGC (s. [2] [3]) make contributions to construct a GIS supported by cartography and spatial queries.
  • Multimedia standards:  A hard problem in this area is how to manage and search and retrieve the multimedia information, mainly many photos, efficiently. Hence, the modern multimedia database technology and metadata standards could make contributions. Metadata might be categorized as metadata for encoding/decoding, for interaction, for description, and for access and delivery. The multimedia description standards such as MPEG-7 (s. [4]) could be the solution to enhance multimedia information retrieval and exchange.
  • Cultural heritage management: The cultural heritage object should be represented and described in detail precisely in order to be managed and searched in an easy way. Several eminent metadata standards in this field are core data index, core data standard and object ID defined by Getty Institute (s. [5]). They are defined for historic building, monuments and archaeological sites and movable cultural heritage objects respectively and implemented in XML.

Related work surveyed focus only on selected parts of the related technologies. ACIS tries to become a pioneer work extended to all the four concepts. In workshops with architects from Department of Urban History and art historians from the seminar of Oriental Art History at Bonn University, the requirements of ACIS concerned with the aforementioned concepts can be concluded as follows:

In the aspect of community, the input user interface should be as simple as possible. Multi-language-interface and multi-user-interface are supported for users in different countries and for users working in different disciplines. Users can communicate with each other via email and forum service. And the community activities are warranted by users’ rights management. In the aspect of GIS, certain search catalogue should be defined for sites and monuments. The query results can also be displayed in maps that are generated dynamically. Graphic spatial query tool need to be developed to support user interactive queries on the maps straightly. Spatial data should be input into the database with simple mechanism. In the aspect of multimedia, suitable metadata standards will be used to enhance multimedia information search and retrieval. In the aspect of cultural heritage management, thesaurus mediation service could be launched to enhance the interoperability among users working in different disciplines using different terminologies. In addition, offline work should be synchronized into the central database, in case that internet is not available on site. The system complexity should be possibly lowered. The system should keep its extensibility and openness. Three kinds of database technologies are applied: spatial database, XML database and multimedia database.

System Design and Implementation

The data model is the starting point of the whole system design, and it is especially important for the database design that follows an entity relationship diagram. The main entities illustrated in Fig. 1 are Object including Geo-object and cultural Item, Source including Document and Event which consists of Fieldwork and Snapshot, and Media that represents different multimedia such as image, video etc. That Each Object could have many Media which comes from certain Source is the strongest relationship in the data model. In addition, many other entities are aggregated with the three main entities. Especially, the Person entity composed of User and Non-user is the actuator of Source, who could be involved in a fieldwork, the author of a written document or an ACIS User. Users may have Collection of their own interest and their Behavior on cultural objects and multimedia may be traced.

The data model can also be seen as a composition of different entity parts that use the ACIS concepts respectively. For instance, Geo-object represents GIS and uses GIS metadata standards and is stored in a spatial database, while Media makes the multimedia system and is stored in a multimedia database. Object is described with cultural heritage standards and Person builds up the community. The related XML files are stored in the XML database.  

Data modeling of ACIS

This data model is implemented with distributed web architecture depicted in Fig. 3. This open system architecture in a three-tier model was designed based on use case analysis. The front-end user interfaces composed of graphic user interface for different usage use the packages of the business logic layer which access the back-end database through the database interface. The middle tier consists of an application server, a web map server, and a metadata sever. With this distributed system architecture, such a use scenarios can be illustrated. The databases might be maintained in Department of Information Systems at RWTH Aachen University. Meanwhile, the application server might run in the newly established modern computer centre in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. On-site findings at a historic site can be input into a laptop immediately and stored locally, in case that Internet is unavailable. Later it can be synchronized with the database in Aachen through the web server.

ACIS system design in 3-tier distributed web architecture

According to the database and system design, it was implemented with Oracle database technologies that consist of spatial, multimedia and XML database technologies. Correspondingly, Oracle Spatial, Oracle Intermedia and Oracle XML database utilities have been surveyed closely and applied partly. After the database was established, the original data stored in the MS Access database was migrated into the new database with SQL scripts in a semi-automated way. Java technologies such as Java Servlet, JSP and Java Applet have been applied for the prototype implementation.

Work in Process

We focus on further exploration of the potential application area (s. Fig. 4). ACIS can be applied for cultural heritage management not only in Afghanistan, but also worldwide. In addition, its open architecture allows an easy adaptability for various other multimedia based business applications. For instance, the concepts of ACIS might also be integrated in advanced tourism information systems by a transfer of its multimedia content requiring only minor adaptations in the existing architecture. In future, mobile network and GPS technologies will be utilized to a greater extent. 

On the other hand, ACIS is also applicable as resource provider for any purpose of education and research. It can serve as a platform for intergenerational learning between the senior and young professionals in Afghanistan, as well as for inter-cultural cooperation.

Further development fields of ACIS

Generally speaking, the outcomes of the ACIS show that the concept of a community business application is promising for a sustainable relief process. We are working on the conception of ACIS in the theoretical level. At the same time, we are making the system development, roll-out in Afghanistan and evaluation in the practical level.


[1]   E. Wenger: Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity. New York: Cambridge  University  Press, 1998.

[2]   Open GIS Abstract Specification: OpenGIS Metadata, 2000, http://www.opengis.org/docs/01-111.pdf

[3]   Open GIS Consortium Inc.: OpenGIS Web Map Server Cookbook version 1.0.1, Editor: Kris Kolodziej, August 2003.

[4]   ISO/IEC: MPEG-7 Overview, March 2003, http://www.chiariglione.org/mpeg/standards/mpeg-7/mpeg-7.htm

[5]   Getty Institute: A Crosswalk of Metadata Element Sets for Art, Architecture, and Cultural Heritage Information and Online Resources, 2000.

ACIS Poster in PDF

Application Data


Oracle Database 10g with

  • 15 spatial tables
  • more than 800 monuments and sites
  • more than 400 images
  • more than 1700 entries of documents
  • more than 300 entries of fieldwork

Application Server

OC4J 10g

Maschine Type: Sun Fire V240 with

  • 2 UltraSparc IIIi Processors (1.28 GHz)
  • 8 GigaByte System Memory
  • 2 Ultra160 36 GB SCSI disks (mirrored) for the system
  • 2 Ultra160 146 GB SCSI disks (mirrored) for the database
  • Gigabit Ethernet Network Connection
  • Redundant power supply
  • Solaris 10 Operating Environment

Map Server

Oracle Application Server Mapviewer Kit


Try it out here

Map Panel (center) displays maps with query results, Spatial Search Panel (left) poses queries with users’ interactions, Information Panel (bottom left) shows the textual information of the queries and Multimedia Panel (bottom right) lists the related multimedia data. Among them, spatial search includes search a site with a certain site name; search all sites in a certain province; search all sites within a rectangle drawn by users; search all sites within a certain distance restriction as well as with reference to a center point clicked by users; and search the next n sites in the neighborhood with reference to a center point clicked by users.

ACIS: Spatial search user interface with multimedia display



Research staff


Project Publications

L. Jäger, Matthias Jarke, Ralf Klamma, Marc Spaniol

Transkriptivität -- Operative Medientheorien als Grundlage von Informationssystemen in den Kulturwissenschaften

H. Bublitz, R. Marek, C.L. Steinmann, H. Winkler (Hrsg.): Automatismen, pp. 299-314. Wilhelm Fink Verlag 2010. ISBD 978-3-7705-4987-0

Georgios Toubekis, Yiwei Cao, Ralf Klamma, Marc Spaniol

ACIS: A collaborative hypermedia geospatial community information systems of Afghan Monuments and Sites

Proceedings of Computer Applications & Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA 2008) - 2-6 April, Budapest/Hungary, 2008

Yiwei Cao, Satish Srirama, Mohamed Chatti, Ralf Klamma

Mobile Social Software for Cultural Heritage Management

R. Meersman, Z. Tari, P. Herrero et al. (eds.): Proc. of Workshop on Mobile and Networking Technologies for Social Applications (MONET), On the Move to Meaningful Internet Systems 2006: OTM 2006 Workshops, Montpellier, France, LNCS4277, Springer, 2006, pp. 955-964.

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