March 28, 2012

Is preserving our heritage digitally good enough?

The CyArk Foundation

Starting from the premise that humanity is losing our cultural heritage faster than we can physically preserve it, Ben Kacyra has a powerful remedy. Using leading-edge laser scanning technology that he originally developed for commercial surveying applications, Kacyra's CyArk (Cyber Archive) Foundation is imaging important cultural sites and creating the capacity to view them as physical models (created with 3D "printers") or fly-through virtual tours. With the lauch of the CyArk 500 in 2012, the group hopes to image 500 UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites in five years. It has as already scanned nearly 40 sites including the culturally-critical Royal Kasubi Tombs in Uganda, subsequently destroyed by fire.

Questions to consider:
Does having a digital file of a site that can be experienced virtually equate to preserving it?

In what ways would the virtual tour of a site like Angkor Wat in Cambodia differ from a physical visit? Do these differences matter?

Can 3D scanning and building of precise virtual models (as well as thoseĀ  you can experience physically) be seen as a possible new paradigm for the encyclopedic museum if extended to individual artifacts? Or put another way, would viewing a model of King Tut's sarcophagus be the same as the real deal?

Might the resources directed at digital representation be better used for physical conservation or for changing the situations that cause loss of these treasures?

See for yourself at the websites below and please share your comments:
Ben Kacyra's talk at the TEDGlobal2011 Conference
CyArk's projects