(1865 photo by A.D. White from Cornell University public archive)
Some 15 years ago or so, an acquaintance spent 5 years of his life climbing up, sliding down, scraping his knees and scuttling over every visible inch of the Great Sphinx. He was painstakingly mapping the monument. While admiring his dedication, I secretly thought he was a bit mad to endure those brutal summers, perched precariously on baking stone. His efforts paid off handsomely. Mark Lehner produced the first detailed map of that rather mysterious structure. He fed the coordinates into a computer program, which was truly cutting edge in those days. But some wondered what, exactly, was below ground. Rumours about the hidden chambers of the Sphinx remained tantalisingly unproven.
Today, using laser scanners to perform surveys means that 50,000 points in space can be recorded every second, as contrasted to perhaps 200 a day formerly. And the new process reveals secrets of the both the past and the underground.
To quote a NY Times article: ‘Through scanning, the experts can conjure up what objects looked like ages ago, in effect turning the clock back on ancient sites. They can simulate the effects of climate change, urban encroachment or other natural or man-made disasters on those same sites, peering into the future.’
Printing Lost Cities
(Photo of Cleopatra’s sunken palace from a National Geographic article dated 19 Feb 2010 about a proposed underwater museum.)
Using 3D printers, exact reproductions could be made of a site as it was at different times. Soon, I believe it will not be unusual to ‘print’ huge walk-in models of buildings, underground ruins and rivers, Angkor Wat as it appeared in its glory, Greek cities that have sunken underwater.
(The ruined city of Midgar from Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, by Takayaraito)
Perhaps laser scans will be combined with computer models of climate change and penetrating beams that precisely identify molecular composition in order to explore the past, predict the future and settle currently unanswerable questions.
Inaccessible pottery, middens, bone, sediment and other materials could be persuaded to tell their tales. Ancient urban planning, the reasons for the collapse of civilisations (probably more often climate-related than we quite realise) and many more data could be food for interdisciplinary groups, such as geologists, sociologists, economists, architects and others interested in the workings of the built and natural environments.
The putative pyramids off the coast of Okinawa and in North American lakes, jungle-strangled temples, the city off Cuba that some call ‘Atlantis’, the Mahabalipuram complex, Troy and other built environments we have not yet begun to dream of could be totally recreated, analysed and even used as the immersive surroundings for games such as Age of Empires.
(Photo of Port au Prince Cathedral from Cyark.org)
Cyark.org is a non-profit dedicated to preserving and sharing the world's cultural heritage. Here is a map of their projects from cathedrals to African tombs to the ancient city of Merv to the Titanic.
They are asking for volunteers to generate photographic, architectural and laser scan data of Haiti’s heritage: ‘As clean up efforts continue, crews will unknowingly discard rubble that was once part of a beloved church or historic palace. Time is of the essence.’ Haitian art historian Gerald Alexis stated, ‘It’s our heritage, and although people think that in poor countries such concepts are unnecessary, they are indeed the only thing we have.’ If you are able to help or know someone who can, here is their site.
I wonder what Mark Lehner would think of being able to reproduce--perhaps in his garage--dozens of complete, perfectly-scaled Sphinxes, as she was when first built and through the centuries, mapping changes in time and space.