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The use of 3D printing technology to reconstruct the Arch of Triumph in Palmyra has opened a Pandora’s Box of ethical issues relating to the use of digital technology to preserve heritage represented by historical objects and sites. The author investigates the ethical implications of the three replicas of the arch made by IDA in New York, London, and Dubai after the original was destroyed in the Syrian Civil War. The ethics of digital reconstructions of heritage are not yet coded by UNESCO or ICOMOS, but it is important to hold reconstructed heritage to the same ethical expectations as other types of heritage. This paper concludes that the reconstructed arch failed to meet these expectations in four key ways. First, it does not address the human loss in Palmyra and the contribution of the Assad regime to its destruction. Second, despite an ostensible commitment to reproduction, the reconstructed arch is inaccurate in material and scale. Third, the arch is patented by the IDA and has had limited public and digital access. Finally, the reconstruction promotes a potentially irresponsible culture of quickly reconstructing destroyed heritage without respect for the context or current needs of the respective people. Through delving into Pandora’s Box, this article aims to highlight ethical issues specific to digital reconstructions of heritage that need to be addressed in formal codes of ethics concerning the preservation of heritage represented by historical objects and sites.
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