National Geographic : 2010 Oct
FROM TOP: SKYBUCKET3D; CYARK; AFP/GETTY IMAGES THE BIG IDEA that can include hundreds of millions of pieces of data. In addition to 3-D coordinates, the laser scanner records each point's "intensity return," a value that represents the color and brightness of the scanned object's surface. These values are shown with a false coloring (center image, left). Analysts can use this infor- mation to see where cracks are developing or whether newer materials have been incorporated into a structure. Ben Kacyra was one of the inventors of the laser scanner used in the surveys and is also CyArk's founder. He was inspired to start the nonprofit after the Taliban demolished Afghanistan's Bamian Buddhas in 2001. If detailed laser scans are available, he reasoned, at least something remains in the event of a site's loss. Such a loss occurred earlier this year, when fire consumed the royal Kasubi tombs in Uganda. Four kings of Buganda---a kingdom within the country---were entombed in the wood-and-thatch structure. A year earlier, though, CyArk had collected scans there. Within days of the fire, a Buganda prince was talking to CyArk about rebuilding. CyArk has identified more than 800 at-risk sites to survey. Where resources allow, it works with an international network of partners to scan the sites---38 so far. All data collected is archived and publicly available at cyark.org. "Our collective memory is in the works of man," Kacyra says. "This is really not just a matter of preserving this site or that site. It's a matter of preserving our human collective memory." ---Elizabeth Preston Destroyed in 2010 Local people gathered as flames engulfed the tombs. The cause of the fire remains unknown. Built in 1882 Uganda's Kasubi tombs were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001. Four kings were buried in this thatched structure. Scanned in 2009 A CyArk laser scan created this point cloud image revealing details, including the building's high-ceilinged interior.