Cyark– holy moly this is cool!


Posted on January 23, 2013 by

photograph of Eva Marie Saint and Cary Grant in "North by Northwest"

It’s really a blast when part of your job is to investigate new technologies for interpreters. In the past few weeks, I’ve gone to Minnesota to play with hydraulics and pneumatics, been stunned by being in an airplane fuselage during a simulated parachute mission over France on D-Day where I totally believed that we had been strafed by a German fighter, and have seen one of the world’s largest and most amazing Nativity creche scenes in Austria, literally powered by bicycle gears with a musical accompaniment created with a grind organ, like organ grinders used to play in the background in those 1930s Warner Brothers gangster pictures.

photo of carved wooden figures in a Nativity Scene at a church near Styre Austria.

Detail of the amazing animated Nativity scene in Austria.

Still none of this really compares to the cool factor that I’ve seen in learning about Cyark.

“Cyark, you say? Hmmm. Tell me more!” Uhh, okay. Cyark (for Cyber-Archive) is a non-profit foundation whose mission is “digitally preserving and sharing the world’s cultural heritage sites.” I ran across a news article about Cyark a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been kind of obsessing about it ever since. See, what they do is to make very (I mean VERY) detailed topographic surface maps of cultural sites with laser imagery. How detailed are they? How about an accuracy measured in single millimeters for Mt. Rushmore? Even better, their data is OPEN SOURCE, and available to anyone who wants or needs it.

Engineers Ben and Barbara Kacyra formed Cyark after learning about the Taliban destruction of Buddhist statues in Afghanistan in 2001. For reasons that most of us find unfathomable, they were simply blown out of existence after 15 centuries, with

Before and after the Taliban destroyed the 6th century Buddhist statues in Afghanistan

Before and after the Taliban destroyed the 6th century Buddhist statues in Afghanistan.

scant documentation that they ever existed. It was one of the great crimes against culture, but this event caused Ben Kacyra to realize that 3-d scanning technology they used and developed for construction and industrial uses could create far more accurate and detailed documentation of cultural objects and features than could archaeologists using tape measures and notebooks, and that documenting important cultural sites around the world could help preserve these sites for all time, even if they were to physically be destroyed. All it takes is skill, money and a dedicated passion, which the Kacyras apparently have, in spades.

So what have they done that might be familiar to you? How about a Mt. Rushmore smartphone app that lets you explore the monument in incredible detail?

photograph of Eva Marie Saint and Cary Grant in "North by Northwest"

Cyark sees more detail about Mt. Rushmore than Eva Marie Saint and Cary Grant did in “North By Northwest”

How about a digital exploration of all of the California Missions– not just the exteriors, but interiors, including statuary, altars, even hidden spaces that Cyark discovered during the scan process? How about a total digitization  of Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Park, the “place of refuge” on the island of Hawai’i (and one of my favorite places in the world) How about Qal’At al Bahrain, an ancient Portugese fort in Bahrain, built in the 14th century. How about Manzanar, a WWII Japanese-American Internment Camp near Lone Pine CA?

I won’t belabor the point, because I can’t really do justice to the subject, but as a kind of geek, I’m delighted and enthused that Mr. and Mrs. Kacyra have put their time, money, skill and dedication into saving significant sites on the planet that I like best (sorry, Jupiter,) plus I can dream of what could be done at the parks that I work at and the places I’ve been. As an historic interpreter and a person with a deep passion to understand the past so that I can cope with the present and the future, I feel a kinship to their work, even if I’m not physically involved. Our craft as interpreters depends on effective communication, which of course involves information. Cyark has found an amazing way to collect, preserve and disseminate some incredible information that benefits the entire world.

Take a look through the links. I think that you’ll be glad you did.

The making of Cyark (KQED)

AP story on Orange County Register website





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