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World’s largest 3D archive digitally preserves Chichén Itzá

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Chichén Itzá and other ancient monuments are being scanned for posterity. Photo: CyArk

Chichén Itzá and other historic monuments around the world are vulnerable to the ravages of time, not to mention natural disasters, reckless tourists and even war.

That’s why Ben Kacyra founded CyArk, a nonprofit that scans and digitally archives ancient monuments in a project called Open Heritage. It is the largest archive of its kind, Google says.

With laser scanning, photogrammetry, drone imaging and structured light scanning, CyArk — short for cyber archive – is developing detailed 3D images of Chichén Itzá as well as the Ananda Ok Kyaung temple in Myanmar and the Al Azem Palace in war-torn Syria.

While Open Heritage has been in the works for a year, CyArk has been collecting this type of data at hundreds of sites since the organization was founded in 2003.

Now, Google is making these models available through its Arts & Culture platform.

In 2016, an earthquake damaged a number of Myanmar’s ancient temples, but CyArk had already scanned and photographed some of the structures. So it was able to create accurate 3D models of the damaged temples, and the public can explore them with a computer, smartphone or VR viewer to see how they once looked.

The data collected by CyArk could also be used to aid in restoration efforts.

Of all the world’s treasures, Chance Coughenour, a digital archaeologist managing the project from Google’s end, has a personal favorite. It is the same one CyArk is most often asked about: Chichén Itzá, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

It’s a special site for Coughenour as an “avid fan of Mayan archaeology,” he told Wired Magazine. In particular, he’s excited by the opportunity to 3D model a structure at Chichén Itzá named the Caracol, which is snail in Spanish, alluding to its shape.

This ancient astronomical observatory is rare for how well it’s stood the test of time, and because “there are not many circular structures in the Mayan world,” Coughenour says. “It’s been proven by researchers that the Maya used this to study the sun, sunsets, sunrise, the Equinox, and stars.”

Through Google Arts & Culture, 25 historic locations in 18 countries are viewable in 3D here. Those wanting to download CyArk’s data can apply to do so through this form.

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