When the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001, Ben Kacyra and his wife Barbara were devastated. While they grieved the loss of a significant site of international cultural heritage, they also knew that they had developed the technology that could have at least preserved a record of the sculptures. Kacyra is the founder of CyArk, and he developed a 3D laser scanning system that records architectural details of heritage sites and culturally significant buildings down to a few millimeters. CyArk is now a nonprofit, and after scanning 40 “Exemplar Projects,” including Mount Rushmore, Pompeii and Rapa Nui, they are calling for letters of interest from governments and the community to develop a list of 500 further sites worthy or in need of digital preservation.

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CyArk’s scanning is performed by LIDAR, a system similar to radar that uses lasers instead of radio waves to bounce back information. Kacyra developed a system that could be used outdoors, was eye-safe and also battery powered. The system works by creating a “point cloud” across the scanned site. These points are then connected to form a wire frame, from which a digital 3D model can be produced. The 3D model is then colored using photographs of the original site as a reference. The finished model can be used as an educational tool, for further study of a remote site, and to preserve a 3D replica of it in case of disaster, whether natural or human induced. Depending on the complexity and accessibility of the site, scanning can take anywhere from three to four days, to two weeks.

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CyArk has recently announced the CyArk 500 Challenge, the nonprofit’s ambitious goal to digitally preserve 500 cultural heritage sites within the next five years. CyArk and its project partners are “on a mission to save these cultural heritage sites digitally before more are ravaged by war, terrorism, arson, urban sprawl, climate change, earthquakes, floods, and other threats.” The cultural devastation currently being wrought in Syria is case in point. Unfortunately, Syria is now too dangerous for CyArk to undertake a project there, but as CyArk vice president Elizabeth Lee explained to Popular Science: “Risk is a big factor for us, and in certain situations it’s too late to go in safely. Part of the project is trying to be proactive — to get the sites before they’re gone.”

CyArk is inviting interested members of the worldwide heritage community to submit sites for consideration to be included in the CyArk 500. Governments, organizations and individuals are all welcome to submit a letter of interest, and you can review the first 40 projects documented via the CyArk website here. Submissions will be evaluated by the CyArk 500 Advisory Council for selection as part of the 500. All successful projects will enter CyArk’s free, 3D online library , preserving the world’s cultural heritage sites before they are lost to natural disasters, destroyed by human aggression or ravaged by the passage of time.

+ CyArk

Via Popular Science

Photos by CyArk and UNESCO/A Lezine via Wikimedia Commons