An Oakland-based nonprofit called CyArk is using 3D technology to scan the historic missions in an effort to preserve them, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.
The idea is to make a virtual 3D model of the structures so if they're damaged in earthquakes or fires, for example, the model provides a precise outline down to the millimeter for easier reconstruction.
CyArk is the brainchild of retired civil engineer Ben Kacyra, who helped develop a portable 3D laser scanner that can send out 50,000 beams a second.
Kacyra, 72, said the device's invention was inspired by the Taliban's destruction of two, 1,500-year-old Buddha statues in Afghanistan in 2001. "This was a concentrated effort to destroy history by people who didn't agree with it," he told The Times.
Using the 3D scanner, he now wants to digitally preserve the world's historic monuments in a database.
So far, CyArk's team has recorded 70 sites, including the Japanese-American internment camp at Manzanar, ruins at Pompeii, Italy, and a Frank Lloyd Wright synagogue in Pittsburgh.
A current project involves recording California's 21 historic missions, four presidios and three pueblos over the next two to three years. Most of the project's $700,000 to $800,000 cost will be paid by preservation groups and private donations.
CyArk archaeologists recently scanned the 1797 Mission San Juan Bautista on the Central Coast, spending two days taking millions of measurements from about 180 locations in and around the church.
The resulting 3D model will be especially valuable since the mission was located about 40 feet from the San Andreas fault line. "San Juan Bautista is a poster child for exactly why we're doing this," CyArk archaeologist Justin Barton told the Times.
Use of the laser device could be expanded well beyond historic purposes. Architects, road builders, homicide detectives, anyone who needs meticulously detailed views of complex scenes could benefit from the technology, the report said.
Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com