Restoring History

We all know the limitless potential of 3D printing in modern society. They can be used to make everything from jets and cars, to actual body parts. They represent a bright light in the technology of the future.

Now, 3D is also saving the past.

A 3D model of the destroyed Monumental Arch in Palmyra, Syria, was unveiled in Trafalgar Square, London. Built by the Institute of Digital Archaeology, the model is two-thirds of the original monument, and was carved by a robotic arm in Egyptian marble.

The original monument was destroyed when the so-called Islamic State—which also goes by ISIS or any number of euphemistic acronyms—captured Palmyra and started blowing up historical artifacts with dynamite. It was erected in the early 3rd Century to commemorate the victorious Parthian campaigns of the Roman emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193-211 A.D.), and was thus an important part of Palmyra's storied history—relic of an age when the city sat astride the lucrative Silk Road, and reminder of a time when, under its famous queen Zenobia, the city even aspired to its own eastern empire.

The institute's director, Roger Michel, reached out through their Million Images Database when Palmyra was attacked. Volunteers were handed 3D cameras so that they might record important artifacts before they were destroyed by the marauding IS savages. These images can then be used to make a model of the structure or artifact.

The model stands at 5.5 meters (18 feet) and cost $145,000 to make.

An Act of Defiance

The model remained in Trafalgar Square for three days, before it was packed up for a round-the-world tour, including pit stops in New York and Delhi. Its ultimate destination is to be Palmyra itself, where it will be installed near where the original arch was found.

"There is actually a message within the Million Image Database initiative for those who think you can wipe out our human heritage with acts of destruction," said Mohammed Abdullah Al Gergawi, Dubai Minister of Cabinet Affairs and managing director of the Dubai Museum of the Future Foundation.

"What you destroy, we can create again. Our desire to live together, to work together for our humanity is a positive force that can rebuild everything you break. Ultimately, we are stronger because we build."

And that's a powerful message that we can all take to heart.

Artist's rendering of the 3D-printed Palmyrene Monumental Arch in Trafalgar Square, London. Credit: Institute for Digital Archaeology

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