3D printing news News Reproduction of World Heritage Site in China Achieved Using 3D Printing
Accidents and vandalism aside, just merely interacting with old monuments or artifacts leads to their degradation. You might know of precious books which researchers must wear gloves to handle lest their fingers damage the pages, and the statue of St Peter in the Vatican is just one example of a monument worn smooth by years of human touch. However, 3D printing could provide a way to protect these precious pieces of heritage without denying the public the opportunity to explore and learn from history. The technology can provide reconstructions, reproductions and copies of existing historical pieces. Take, for example, a 3D printed reproduction of a Unesco Heritage Site! Hardback Book Printing
Currently on display in China is a 3D printed reproduction of one of the caves of the Yungang Grottoes. The Grottoes are a Buddhist temple and collection of caves which are inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage site list. They were cut in the 5th- 6th century AD and comprise in total 252 caves, 51,000 statues, and a carved area of 18,000 square meters. Unesco makes no secret of their importance; according to them, the caves ‘constitute a classical masterpiece of the first peak of Chinese Buddhist art’.
A close-up of the 3D-printed 9.93-meter Amitabha Buddha in cave 3. (Photo credit: CFP via Getty Image)
The 3D printed reproduction is the same appearance and scale of the original cave. The copy is 17.9 meters tall by 13.6 meters wide, while the main Buddha stands at 9.93 meters tall.
The construction of this cave followed the process common to all 3D printing projects. First, 3D technicians collected some 10,000 images of the cave and the Buddha in order to build up a digital model. Of course, they cant print an entire construction in one go – the model was divided into 842 parts which were printed using multiple 3D printers. Researchers did not state which model or kind of 3D printer was used, but the final images suggest that the cave was printed in concrete, implying FDM 3D printing. The installation and coloring stages took three months to complete.
The Yunyang Grottoes are an extensive cave system which attract many tourists every year. (Photo credit: Ian Whitfield)
This reproduction has obvious benefits for both academics and the public: the reconstructions allow ordinary people to experience the caves in a tangible way without the risk of damaging or degrading precious historical art. It also allows the caves themselves to be digitally and permanently documented, to the advantage of historical preservation. Indeed, this is not the first employment of 3D printing for the purpose. One of the best-known projects which marries 3D technologies with conservation is Scan The World, which produces 3D scans of precious monuments for their preservation. In October last year the organization called for the scanning of the Easter Island Statues (the Moai) after a fire damaged many statues in the collection.
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*Cover photo credit: CFP via Getty Image
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