Old source, new spring

Time travel for flood control

3 min
Text Lise Wouters

Century-old maps, archaeological objects, kilometres of archives... There is an awful lot of historical data, and new finds are added every day. To use all that data in the smartest way possible, we need to look for technological ways to create a collection. Researchers Iason Jongepier and Tim Soens took a fresh look at ancient sources, and developed a proper time machine. Bring in the time machine! 


Time travel through Europe 


A group of researchers from several European countries want to join forces to build a time machine. That time machine consists of a digital environment in which ancient data is merged into an endlessly expandable 4D environment. A kind of Europe-through-the-ages, compiled from historical imagery, archaeological finds, landscape reconstructions and other historical data. 


Antwerp Time Machine 


The University of Antwerp is doing its bit for the Antwerp Time Machine. Researchers Iason Jongepier and Tim Soens (Department of History) are trying to find a way to integrate, automate and apply existing data. The Antwerp Time Machine consists of several sub-studies, including the Sint-Andries Time Machine. That app playfully introduced users to the history of the Sint-Andries neighbourhood in Antwerp. You could teleport yourself to the years 1584, 1796 and 1898. 


Another example is GIStorical Antwerp, a digital environment with seven snapshots of Antwerp between 1584 and 1984. This allows you to, for example, examine where the rich and poor lived, or where most taverns were. There is also Virtuafort, a VR app that lets you compare today’s Fort Lillo to 17th century’s Fort Lillo. You can even use it to get a glimpse of the fort’s future.  

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By bringing together cartographic, archaeological, textual and visual sources, we gain insight into the history of Herentals and its tributary the Kleine Nete.

Iason Jongepier

The story of the Kleine Nete  


Another interesting study that is part of the Antwerp Time Machine is ‘Time Machine: Herentals and the Kleine Nete’. To divert the excess water when a river floods, ecologists are considering creating new flood plains along the Scheldt, Nete and Rupel rivers. And history can play its part in that too.  


‘By bringing together cartographic, archaeological, textual and visual sources, we gain insight into the history of Herentals and its tributary the Kleine Nete’, Jongepier says. ‘For example, we can study how the area was managed, who the owners and users were, how the fauna and flora changed, how the water was managed, etc.’ 


Changing the future  


‘With this valuable knowledge, we contribute to the management and development of the Kleine Nete area’, Soens adds. ‘Just think of the objectives of biodiversity, agriculture, recreation and flood safety. But we might come to conclusions that are also relevant to other regions. We are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of flood plains, such as those around the Kleine Nete.’   


Perhaps the time machine of Herentals and the Kleine Nete will lead to better flood policies across Belgium, and we will be better prepared when climate change and rising sea levels soon start affecting our landscape. Or how we can truly change the future with digital time travel. 


Want to know more? Discover more about the Antwerp Time Machine.

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