Meet the 3D mappers bringing our historical ruins to life

29 Apr 2016

Some of Earth’s most-prized possessions are structures made by the human hand, and almost every one of them are under threat. But don’t worry, 3D mapping is our latest preservation tool.

A non-profit organisation called CyArk is doing some pretty wonderful work around the world, work you are probably unaware of. With laptops, cameras and passports in hand, they’re travelling the globe to 3D map as many historical landmarks as physically possible.

Getting incredibly comprehensive, detailed layouts of places like Mount Rushmore, the Eastern Qing Tombs, the Monastery of Geghard, the Tower of London and even ruins in Mexico City, the team are striving to make a record of as many locations as they can.

Monastery of Geghard in Armenia

A map of the Monastery of Geghard in Armenia, via CyArk

With threats like environmental changes, natural disasters and even just regular old spoilsport humans, many incredibly old landmarks are under severe threat. It’s hoped that through saving detailed schematics of these places, they won’t vanish from history.

CyArk starts by bouncing laser light off surfaces, with 3D scanners measuring millions of points a second, accurate to a few millimetres to create a 3D data set. Colours represent the intensity of reflection from the surface.

A mesh is then generated, much like you see when making your own levels for certain computer games. From that, everything can be garnered.

The mapping process, in stages, at Mount Rushmore, via CyArk

The mapping process, in stages, at Mount Rushmore, via CyArk

As you can see in this video, the detail is such that you can zoom in through windows to investigate the interior of buildings or caves, showing just how comprehensive a mapping job it is.

It’s a pretty cool organisation, and a pretty cool project.

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Greek ruin image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic