Plans Announced to Digitally Map Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Officials have announced a project to digitally preserve Mount Rushmore National Memorial as part of an international project digitally preserving World Heritage Sites and monuments. Attending the announcement Friday were, from the left, Michael Russell, Scottish Culture Minister; Ben Kacyra of CyArk, a nonprofit organization, and; Gerard A. Baker, Mount Rushmore superintendent. NPS photo by Steve McEnroe.

Digital mapping. This relatively new technology is a boon to archaeologists and preservationists. It's already been employed at Mesa Verde National Park, and now plans are in the works to digitally map the focal point of Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

Mount Rushmore officials are partnering with CyArk – a U.S.-based non-profit organization that pioneered the digital preservation (3d laser scanning, modeling and archiving) of World Heritage Sites and monuments, - and the Culture Minister of the Scottish Government. The partnership’s task is the 3D digital recording of Mount Rushmore. This project is expected to provide, for the first time, a visual documentation of this internationally important memorial in South Dakota.

"We have discussed a commitment to pursue a truly pioneering partnership with CyArk and through them, the Scottish Government, RESPEC Engineering, Wyss and Associates, and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, to take advantage of truly innovative opportunities in digitally recording, preserving and managing our historic resources," explained Gerard Baker, the memorial's superintendent.

“While Mount Rushmore is a national icon in the U.S., there is expertise in other countries which can assist us to preserve it in a modern context. Therefore, we have identified international partners with technical expertise and commitment who share our vision to expand Mount Rushmore’s and the National Park Service’s ability to offer more interactive interpretive, educational and research programs while enhancing our preservation and security capabilities.

“A partnership of the size allows us to celebrate our cultural heritage on a world-wide stage by recording one of America’s most important historical sites for the benefit of future generations.”

The partners are now seeking to complete an agreement to share other expertise, explore further international collaboration, and develop cultural connections between Scotland and the United States.

“Scotland has great expertise and a wealth of experience in preserving, understanding and researching its historic environment," said Michael Russell, Scotland's minister for culture. "We have embraced 3D scanning to increase our awareness and are now able to share our knowledge in digital documentation with countries and organizations on a world stage for everyone to enjoy.

“This is a first step in what I believe can be a successful long term international partnership.”

CyArk is the brainchild of Ben Kacyra, whose foundation seeks to digitally capture a lasting record of such World Heritage sites as Mesa Verde, Pompeii in Italy, Ancient Thebes in Egypt, Tikal in Guatemala, Chichen Itza in Mexico, and Angkor in Cambodia, to list but a few.

"It was exciting to meet Superintendent Baker and his staff last fall and to learn of his vision of digitally preserving this American Icon for future generations," Mr. Kacyra said Friday during a press conference. "His further objective of making this invaluable data available to the public worldwide aligned with CyArk’s mission of dissemination through the CyArk website.

“We are indebted to Historic Scotland for their very generous donation of resources and technology to perform the 3D-laser documentation. This underscores the international importance of Mount Rushmore and Scotland’s world-class capabilities in this field. We are delighted to have Mount Rushmore and Historic Scotland as active partners in CyArk and to have the memorial as one of the first heritage sites to be included in the CyArk 500.”

The scanning project will be led by CyArk with technical and logistical support through Historic Scotland – Scotland’s heritage agency and its partner, Glasgow School of Art – which will work with the Park Service at Mount Rushmore and devise a scanning timetable. The project is expected to begin in late September and be completed in two weeks.

Local technical partners RESPEC Engineering, Wyss and Associates, and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology will benefit from the partnership by developing capabilities from shared experience to sustain and further develop this unique method of digitally visualizing and understanding the memorial and other historic landmarks.

The Mount Rushmore scanning project would provide a three-dimensional, digital model capable of recreating sculpted surfaces with an accuracy of less than 1 centimeter. This 3-D model will be the focus of the comprehensive CyArk website for showcasing to the public the heritage and historic assets contained within the memorial boundary.

The value of the 3-D model provides realistic digital information of the site and has applications to provide innovative and interactive public interpretation, education, research and security programs. Regarding the partners' mutual goals of preserving this site, in the event of an incident resulting in damage to the sculpture, the model would provide the data necessary to accurately replicate carved surfaces.

The digital model will also give the Park Service the ability to develop a very realistic interactive model for Mount Rushmore for education and interpretive use including potential “virtual tours” of the memorial, as well as the entire site; the 3D models of the sculpture and the site could be used to create 3D digital educational programs for grades K-12.

Mount Rushmore's Hall of Records represents a “time capsule” displaying all phases of the carving process. The digital model will capture this information with millimeter-scale accuracy for posterity and provide a means to share this unique information, educationally and interpretively, with individuals not able to visit the site.