3D scans of archaeological sites made with lasers
February 18, 2010 5:32 PM   Subscribe

CyArk is a non-profit which makes three-dimensional scans of archaeological sites with lasers in effort to digitally preserve them. It currently has 27 projects, including Chichén Itzá, Angkor Wat, Anasazi Pueblos in Mesa Verde, Thebes, Rapa Nui and the Royal Tombs at Kasubi. There's quite a lot of material about Cyark online, including profiles Wired Science, a lecture by founder Ben Kacyra at Google as well as an article in Archaeology and an article by two CyArk employees in Professional Surveyor describing how they work.
posted by Kattullus (12 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, I forgot to mention one thing... some content (high resolution panorama's, for instance) requires registering, which is free.
posted by Kattullus at 5:41 PM on February 18, 2010

This would be about 2^10 × cooler if they gave access to the actual 3d point clouds instead of a "viewer".
posted by signal at 6:23 PM on February 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

These laser scan data clouds are cool, but their usefulness for the sort of archaeology that most of us do is really entirely that: just for the coolness factor. I've worked on sites (none of the ones listed in CyArk) where we had large-scale laser scanning of monumental architecture, and the data that were generated ended up offering little for our research or the conclusions reached. The laser scan images were always the front slide in presentations, and way up front in stuff we printed out, and they certainly attracted interest and goodwill but that was about the extent of it.

The idea of digital preservation of the sites they've done, in particular, strikes me as a bit silly. They've scanned some of the best-known, best-preserved large-scale well known (and well funded) sites out there, sites that probably aren't going anywhere anytime soon. If it were actually about digital preservation they would be offering their services to buildings and tombs and sites that are in danger of being destroyed.

Ack, I'm pessimistic about this. Apologies. The laser scans are cool, they're neat to see, and they generate goodwill and interest among laypeople. These are all good things (I'm just not convinced yet that they're much good in actual archaeology, is all).
posted by barnacles at 6:48 PM on February 18, 2010 [5 favorites]

In 20 years 85% of buildings will have been modeled and uploaded to Google earth using autonomous swarm robots.
posted by delmoi at 7:50 PM on February 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is interesting. I have compiled a decent list of some relevant and interesting related resources in this particular area if anyone wants.

'We' lose a lot of information during digs that may seem less than valuable today, information which would be of much larger potential value to people analyzing and understanding provenance by tomorrows archaeologists. Digital Documentation of sites will be very valuable in this field.

The interaction between artifacts within a site are of vast value; Context of artifacts is the Key. Currently when sites are dug up we are lucky if even basic "notes" are made on the location of items... the data held within the context of the items that are discovered is extremely valuable information. And is information that is often lost in the initial exploration of sites.

This provenance data is not lost when better digital tools are used to capture the state of the site before, during and after excavation.
posted by infinite intimation at 9:19 PM on February 18, 2010

Sometimes creating pretty things that draw attention and interest, and inspires the next generation to care about (or even think about) a particular field of study is the greatest possible contribution to that field.
posted by infinite intimation at 9:28 PM on February 18, 2010

sites that probably aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

With the number of tourists per annum allowed to clamber all over Angkor to their hearts' desire, and touch almost anything they like with their grubby, acidic hands (other than a tiny handful of panels behind perspex), I wouldn't count on that.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:25 PM on February 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was going to disagree but I see that infinite_intimation has beaten me to it, and more eloquently that I could have done. I can just add, as someone involved in the instrument side (disclaimer: Leica Geosystems is a company of the group I work for) that the functionalities of these babies are incredible....it's up to the users (archaeologists amongst them) to find new uses for them.
posted by MessageInABottle at 2:30 AM on February 19, 2010

I reckon I saw these guys working on the murals at Angkor Wat in December - they were somewhere around the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, maybe a bit clockwise from there.

Nice PR, but so many more interesting places to map!
posted by polyglot at 7:58 AM on February 19, 2010

Who knows? In a thousand years even this may be worth something.
posted by 7segment at 9:39 AM on February 19, 2010

I think using this to create near-perfect scale models would be kinda cool. There are several sites I wouldn't mind having in very small scale on my desk/wall/whatever. I would really loved such a thing as a kid.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:06 PM on February 19, 2010

Just as species are going extinct each day, for example in the biologically rich and diverse rain forest, on a daily basis important archaeological sites are disappearing due to development. It is very important that archaeologists transmit to the public a sense of urgency to protect these sites that parallels the biologist’s passion to protect endangered species. It should not be a difficult task; every human being at some time is intrigued by the question, “where did I come from”? It is archaeology, perhaps through the lens of electronic reconstruction and virtual tours of past sites that can provide many of the answers, if we act in time. The online storage of data should not be considered the permanent “New Library of Heliopolis”- but for the present, we, the societies of the Earth need all the chances we can to co-operate and collaborate, in our pursuit of answers regarding our origins and evolution.

These new methods will never completely replace traditional archaeological fieldwork, but I would suggest that a visionary goal for the next decade of archaeology would be to make the archaeology of the past more accessible, and the archaeology of the future less invasive.
posted by infinite intimation at 6:34 PM on February 19, 2010

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