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NEW LANARK, Scotland (Reuters Life!) - A team of British scientists is preparing to create a digital model of Mount Rushmore using laser scanning so that the iconic U.S. monument can be recreated were it to be damaged.
The survey work is part of a project to accurately record the exact dimensions of 500 of the most famous World Heritage Sites, including the Acropolis in Athens and the Great Wall of China.
The joint team, from the Glasgow School of Art and Historic Scotland, are currently surveying 10 World Heritage Sites in Britain before they aim their laser beams at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.
There they will team up with members of the CyArk Foundation, a non-profit organization that has identified several 'at risk' World Heritage sites.
Mount Rushmore is on their list because of concerns over deterioration of the faces of four former presidents on the granite sculpture.
Laser scanning itself is not new but applying the technology to historic sites or buildings is a new approach.
"Initially these laser scanners were produced for things like refineries where there are lots of pipes and things or atmospheres that were difficult for humans to actually tolerate," Chris McGregor of Historic Scotland told Reuters Television.
"They hadn't really thought about the built heritage as being a market for such a machine but its use and the work that we are doing with it is really innovative and really exciting."
CyArk's goal is to create a huge database of detailed surveys of sites so that they can be maintained or even rebuilt should they be damaged by a natural disaster, climate change or even war.
They cited as an example the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, two monumental statues of standing Buddhas carved into the side of a cliff during the sixth century that were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.
Despite offers from the governments of Japan and Switzerland, among others, to help rebuild the Buddhas, the team believe an accurate laser survey would have made the task more achievable.
Scanning is almost complete on New Lanark's world heritage site, a restored 18th century cotton mill in southern Scotland.
Doug Pritchard from the Glasgow School of Art's Digital Design Studio said the development of laser scanning technology has given a greater accuracy to their surveys and thrown new light on ancient monuments.
"We are discovering new things about the buildings which are hundreds, thousands of years old," he said.
CyArk said the loss of architectural and archaeological cultural heritage is becoming a crisis of global proportions with an urgent need for reliable documentation as a key step to help preserve heritage sites.
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith