3D printing in archaeology

Using 3D Printing, Syrian Palmyra Arch Gets Rebuilt in London

Palmyra arch

A 3D printed replica of the famous Palmyra arch, part of the Temple of Bel that was destroyed by ISIS, will to be erected in London.

Palmyra arch
The Temple of Bel before it was destroyed, the Palmyra arch can be seen to the left.

The 2,000-year-old arch is all that remains of the Temple of Bel, part of the Syrian Unesco World Heritage site, which was captured by militants in May 2015. Now, the Institute of Digital Archaeology – a joint venture between Harvard University, the University of Oxford and Dubai’s Museum of the Future – is going to rebuild it using 3D printing technology. The institute specializes in the use of digital imaging and 3D printing in the fields of archaeology and conservation.

Alexy Karenowska, from the Institute of Digital Archaeology, said to the BBC: “People say, ‘should we be worrying about this stuff when human lives are being lost?’ Of course all of this stuff takes second place to human life, but these cultural objects are very important to give a sense of place and community.” The Temple of Bel influenced classical styles of architecture that spread throughout Europe during the Roman Empire, which once extended to the banks of the Euphrates, Karenowska explained.

The Institute of Digital Archaeology is currently involved in a project supplying volunteers with 3D cameras to document at-risk cultural sites throughout the Middle East and North Africa. However, they were not able to capture 3D images of the Temple of Bel before it was destroyed. So, in order to make sure they had an accurate representation, researchers used 2D photographs to create a 3D model which will be used to create a 3D printed replica of the arch.

The pieces for the replica are being manufactured in Shanghai, finished in Italy, and then fully assembled at Trafalgar Square.

Roger Michel, the IDA’s executive director, told the Times: “It is really a political statement, a call to action, to draw attention to what is happening in Syria and Iraq and now Libya. We are saying to them ‘if you destroy something we can rebuild it again’. The symbolic value of these sites is enormous. We are restoring dignity to people.”

The structure will be displayed in Trafalgar Square during World Heritage Week in April, along with an identical arch in Times Square, New York.