In January, we harped about how some designers from the Institute for Digital Archaeology will try their best to create a detailed 3D replica of the Palmyra Arch (also known as the Arch of Triumph), a 1,900-year old Greco-Roman styled monument that was probably demolished by ISIS back in October of 2015. And now the ‘talk has been walked’, with the Arch of Triumph being completely furnished and erected in London’s Trafalgar Square. It should be noted however that this recreation, built in original Egyptian marble, is only a scaled version that matches with two-third the size of the actual monument. And the interesting part is – it was entirely achieved with the aid of 3D printing technology, while the details were ‘etched’ by computer-aided carving tools.
From the historical perspective, the settlement of Palmyra with its assortment of different people ranging from Arameans to Arabs, thrived from the 1st century AD, partly due to its strategic trading location (134 miles from Damascus) that was in proximity to the caravan routes. And with its rising wealth, the city went through an opulent constructional phase that including several Greco-Roman styled building, including the famed Temple of Bel (which was destroyed by ISIS in August, 2015). The Arch of Triumph was commissioned by Roman emperor Septimius Severus and built (circa 193-211 AD) as the grand entrance-way to this very temple complex.
As for this 3D printed replica in question, it will remain in London for just three days (originally unveiled on 19th April), and then showcased around the globe via New York and Dubai exhibitions. Finally, the plan is to shift the replica to its point of origin – Palmyra itself. This seemingly risky task can become easier now since both the town and the historical site had been liberated recently by the Syrian government forces from the clutches of ISIS (Daesh). In fact, according to Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s director of antiquities, quite surprisingly around 80 percent of the historical monuments still stand proudly on the war-ravaged site.
Lastly, beyond just the herculean task of 3D printing detailed and imposing historical facades, the Institute for Digital Archaeology has also started other fascinating projects for preservation of history. For example, in another conscientious endeavor, the organization has collaborated with UNESCO to distribute around 5,000 low-cost 3D cameras among volunteers. These cameras are to used for taking photographs and documenting images of the threatened cultural artifacts and structures in Middle East and North Africa. In fact, the institute expects over 20 million of such images to be collected. And once they are processed, the experts can build an accessible database that can be later used for both education and even 3D replication. As the institute website makes it clear –
Digital archaeology represents the natural evolution of classical archaeology, permitting researchers to look at ancient objects in a whole new way, to uncover hidden inscriptions, invisible paint lines, the faintest palimpsests…and to share these discoveries with the world. Beyond that, as the Million Image Database demonstrates, it can put these crucially important repositories of our cultural identity and shared history forever beyond the reach of those who would destroy them.
Part of this article was originally published in our sister site HEXAPOLIS.