Professor helps preserve ancient Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

News Share this story:Using state-of-the-art, non-destructive evaluation and underground imaging techniques, Dante Fratta reveals buried secrets without lifting a shovel.
And in summer 2016, Fratta, an associate professor of geological engineering and civil and environmental engineering, was part of international team of experts who used modern methods in an effort to preserve the ancient Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Their research, published in a preliminary progress report, Aug. 3, 2016, already has helped prevent an important piece of world history from crumbling.
Located in the center of Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity is a World Heritage Site and a major tourist attraction, particularly for Christians, because it is located atop the site where Jesus Christ is said to have been born. But the structure itself is damaged and degraded; in 2008, the World Monuments Fund placed it on a watch list of the 100 most endangered world sites. In 2010, the Palestinian Authority announced plans for a multimillion-dollar restoration effort, the initial phase of which concluded earlier in 2016.
The church’s age—originally built in 339 A.D.—and many additions and iterations also pique archaeologists’ interest. And when a recent excavation came precariously close to undermining the support beneath a structural column within the Church of the Nativity’s Hall of Saint Jerome, Palestinian authorities wisely called a halt to all digging until experts could assess the edifice.
Those experts—a team led by Professor Miguel Pando and hailing from such diverse locales as Portugal, Peru, North Carolina and Wisconsin—traveled to Israel in July 2016 with one primary mission: Measure everything they could about the ancient building in order to protect it from damage. Each person brought unique knowledge and expertise: Together, they spent a week placing sensors, measuring vibrations, scanning surfaces with lasers, and probing beneath the soil with ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and seismic waves. They created virtual three-dimensional maps of the hall …


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