In March 2001, the Taliban blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, two of the tallest Buddha sculptures in the world. This horrific attack on an important and beautiful example of the patrimony of central Asia shocked the world. It also forever changed the landscape of cultural preservation, archaeology and global heritage.
Even back then, we had some of the 3D scanning technologies that could have allowed us to digitally document and preserve the Buddhas. We did not yet anticipate the scale of destruction that would leave hundreds of global heritage sites damaged or obliterated in the 15 years since that event.
The loss of this cultural heritage has spurred teams of researchers and nonprofit organizations to race to make 3D scans, architectural plans and detailed photographic records of heritage sites around the world, knowing they could be destroyed at any time. Advances in 3D scanning technologies, drone use and even tourists' online posting of images are giving preservationists a new set of tools to prevent the permanent loss of cultural artifacts.
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