Google, Stratasys and CyArk Use 3D Scanning and 3D Printing to Preserve Cultural Heritage


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Google Arts and Culture is collaborating with Stratasys and non-profit CyArk to preserve 3D scans and 3D prints of some of the world’s most cherished heritage sites. Google’s Open Heritage Project lets you virtually explore sites from all over the world through a fun and immersive experience. Myanmar’s Bagan, the Brandenburger Tor in Berlin, Chichén Itzá you can be an armchair explorer in each of them. Test it out by flying through some of the sites here

Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon Temple Thailand.

What’s more, the files are available for download so that teachers in classrooms or museums worldwide can show them off. Kinesthetic learners, the curious and the idle can use them to play with and touch some of the world’s most notable sites. The parts have been crafted for the J750 3D printer which can do multi-color and multi-materials.

The company says that,

Google Arts and Culture is the restoration of rare plaster casts initially discovered by A.P. Maudslay during the late 1800s in Guatemala. For more than 100 years, these relics were housed across storage facilities in the British Museum. By leveraging 3D laser scanners to virtually re-assemble each, designers successfully reconstructed these items in physical form with Stratasys 3D printing – later allowing representations to be easily viewed by a wider audience online.”

An impression of Stela E of  the Mayan Quirigua site in Guatemala taken by Alfred Maudslay

Alfred Maudslay went to Quirigua in 1881 and was enthralled by the Mayan civilization and the remote Quirigua site. In total, he would undertake six Mayan expeditions. Above in the image, we can see an impression of Stela E of the Quirigua site. Over ten meters tall it was erected on the 22nd of January in 771 AD. From then on it let all passers-by know that the ruler K’ak’ Tiliw Chan Yopaat ruled here.

“From the beginning, Maudslay understood that a three-dimensional record would be needed if the surviving Maya remains were to be fully analysed by future generations of archaeologists and epigraphers. To this end, he set about producing a complete set of moulds of the monoliths. Once shipped back to London, the moulds and resulting plaster casts were used to produce exact drawings of the glyphs, which were published with the photographs in his Archaeology (1889–1902), later bound to form a comprehensive record of the Maya ruins of Central America. The result was a magnificent work of documentation which, in the words of Maudslay’s biographer, is ‘valued as highly by modern scholars as it was by their predecessors a century ago’.

In the 1880s archeology, especially of a remote foreign site was far more Grand Theft Auto than it is today. At the time Mayan culture was little understood in the West and Mandalay’s exploration of the site, excavation and impressions were instrumental in our understanding Mayan language and culture. Mayan stelae can be found throughout Mayan lands sometimes standing ten meters or more these objects are thought to tell histories and reinforce Mayan rule. Celebrating kings and commemorating events these stelae gave real insight into the politics of Mayan life. The important Quirigua site also held squat zoomorphs or animal inspired shapes that show gods in the Mayan world. By taking their impressions and cataloging them in his tome; an impression of the site was transported around the world to be studied. Stratasys, Google, and CyArk are now doing a very similar much more high tech thing with 3D scanning and 3D printing. In Maudlays footprints they are finding a way to let us all study impressions of an unfathomable past.

Alfred Maudslay at Chichên Itzá.

Bryan Allen, a Design Technologist at Google, said: 

“The project was to explore physically making these artifacts in an effort to get people hooked and excited about seeing pieces in a museum or research context. That’s when we turned to 3D Printing.” “With the new wave of 3D Printed materials now available, we’re able to deliver better colors, higher finish, and more robust mechanical properties; getting much closer to realistic prototypes and final products right off the machines. When we talk to arts and culture preservationists, historians, and museum curators, they’re all absolutely amazed by the ability to fabricate these things with such high fidelity via 3D printing technology,”

Rafie Grinvald, Enterprise Product Director of Rapid Prototyping, Stratasys, said:

“Combining rich colors and translucency in a single print, designers and engineers can build models with heightened levels of accuracy and realism – mirroring opaque or transparent structures, and even complex materials like rubber.”

CyArk has already done some amazing work worldwide in 3D scanning many of the world’s most well-known objects. Will more 3D scans mean that one could at one point download a museum? In the past, we’ve written about 3D Printing being used to let the visually impaired feel exhibits, and how exhibits could be touched by everyone, seen how Berlin’s museums have used 3D printing and 3D scanning and seen how you can restore things through 3D scanning and printing,  We’ve also delved much deeper, looking into the ethics of 3D scanning exhibits. Could we open up a 100 3D printed British Museums worldwide? Could every classroom have access to many of the world’s most important objects? What do you think?

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