The deterioration of a natural surface is something inherent in its condition, but it is true that the crowds and the boom in tourism (at least until it existed) have not done it much good, but the opposite. To avoid this, sometimes replicas are even created of caves, as was done with Altamira, but in China they have gone something further and created the first 3D printed cave of the world.

It is a replica of the Yungang Grottoes. A set of Buddhist caves and niches dating from the 5th century AD and which were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2001, and which more people will now be able to enjoy because their replica in 3D printing it is transportable.

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The art of copying using the latest technology

The original Yungang Grottoes are named for their location, located in this urban district that is about 20 kilometers from the city-prefecture of Datong (China), the latter capital of the northern Wei dynasty (2nd and 3rd centuries AD) . They began to build in the year 460 and they were finished around 494, which is when this dynasty decided to move the capital (to Luoyang).

In that time it was possible to carve Buddha statues between 13 and 17 meters high, having an approximate total of 51,000 sculptures in the caves. It is considered a very valuable Buddhist art sample, hence the UNESCO gave it that name, but as with everything it may not catch us exactly close and visit it is complicated.

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So in China they thought: what if we print an identical copy that can even go on tour?

And they did, not with the full extent of the caves, but with some of the caves. Using 3D printing, part of the well-known landscape was reproduced, which premiered last June in the exhibition “Grace and Gradeur: Memories of Yungang Grottoes through a century” at the Zhejiang University Museum of Art and Archeology (ZJUMAA).


Yungang 03 Reproduction part of the caves. ZJU

According to the government and some media, it is the first cave printed in 3D, movable and 1: 1 scale in the world. The ZJUMAA is located about 1,500 kilometers from the original site, assuming the opportunity to visit it for those who perhaps the location of the caves is too far away.

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A work that began in August 2016, when cave number 12 began to be digitized, seeking to preserve fidelity as much as possible. Diao Changyu, director of the Cultural Heritage Research Institute, explained that there was a lot of technical difficulties around data collection and processing, as well as when printing blocks and coloring them.

They made a 3D model to reconstruct the relics by pulling 3D laser scanning and photogrammetry. To create the model of cave 12 were collected a total of 55,680 photographs.

According to Changyu, the precision of the replica is 0.03 millimeters and the margin of error for the final reproduction is less than 2 millimeters. And as for the color, the director ensures that the fidelity is 95% with respect to what is seen in the original.

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They bred more than a hundred elements, including sculptures, crafts, architectural components and carved stones. The chosen caves are 12 and 14, the first being also known as “the cave of music” as it has musical instruments and dancers represented (in addition to deities and other elements).

The blocks are 2 meters long and light, so the total set can be transported in standard containers (yes, in eight of them)

The blocks that make up the set are 2 meters long and in total about 110 blocks were used. But according to Ning Bo from the Yungang Grottoes Grottoes Research Institute, the weight of each one is light so together they reach two tons, which means can be transported in standard containers (yes, they would need eight of those).

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To achieve a realistic texture, the art team turned to mineral pigments, trying to bring back ancient painting methods in the caves. In total an area of ​​900 square meters was reproduced and the work lasted eight months.

Given the mobility of the facility, the intention is that this 3D replica of the Yungang grottoes go on a world tour. According to Bo, setting up the cave set “only costs a week”, so we will see if once everything is normalized and we regain the power to visit places normally, these 3D caves become close and we can visit them.

Source : Engadget

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