September 18, 2009

Laser Technology Restoration Of World Heritage Sites

A group of British scientists are getting ready to create a digital model of Mount Rushmore by using laser scanning that would help recreate the monument if it were ever damaged.

This particular project is part of a larger effort to accurately record the exact dimensions of top 500 most famous World Heritage Sites, including the Acropolis in Athens and the Great Wall of China.

The team, from the Glasgow School of Art and Historic Scotland, is now surveying 10 World Heritage Sites in Britain before taking on South Dakota's Mount Rushmore.

There they will join together with members of the CyArk Foundation, a non-profit organization that has pin-pointed several World Heritage sites thought to be "Ëœat risk'.

The threat of deterioration has won Mount Rushmore a place on their list, as the granite faces of the four former presidents slowly wear down.

While laser scanning technology is not new, using it for the preservation of historic sites and buildings is.

"Initially these laser scanners were produced for things like refineries where there are lots of pipes and things or atmospheres that were difficult for humans to actually tolerate," Chris McGregor of Historic Scotland told Reuters.

"They hadn't really thought about the built heritage as being a market for such a machine but its use and the work that we are doing with it is really innovative and really exciting."

CyArk aims to create a massive database of the detailed surveys of sites in order to make sure they can be kept up or rebuilt incase they are ever damaged by natural disaster, climate change or even war.

To further their point, the team used the example of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, which are two monumental statues of standing Buddhas carved into the side of a cliff in the sixth century that were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.

Even though the team was offered help from the governments of Japan, Switzerland and others, they saw the accurate laser survey as the best way to go about rebuilding the Buddhas.

They have almost finished scanning the entire New Lanark's world heritage site, a restored 18th century cotton mill in southern Scotland.

According to Doug Pritchard from the Glasgow School of Art's Digital Design Studio, the development of laser scanning technology has provided much more accuracy to their surveys and given new perspective on ancient monuments.

"We are discovering new things about the buildings which are hundreds, thousands of years old," he said.

CyArk said that the loss of so much architectural and archaeological cultural heritage is becoming a crisis that desperately needs reliable documentation to assist in preserving these sites.


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