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The CyArk logo.

CyArk is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization located in Oakland, California, United States. The company's website refers to it as a "digital archive of the world’s heritage sites for preservation and education". Its official mission statement is “Digitally preserving cultural heritage sites through collecting, archiving and providing open access to data created by laser scanning, digital modeling, and other state-of-the-art technologies.”

CyArk’s founder, Ben Kacyra, stated during his speech at the 2011 TED Conference that the organization was created in response to increasing human and natural threats to heritage sites, and to ensure the “collective human memory” is not lost while making it available through modern dissemination tools like the internet and mobile platforms.


Profile of Tikal Temple II

CyArk was founded in 2003 by Iraqi expatriate and civil engineer Ben Kacyra. Kacyra was instrumental in the invention and marketing of the first truly portable laser scanner (called the Cyrax) designed for surveying purposes during the 1990s. After Kacyra’s company (Cyra Technologies) and all rights to the invention were purchased by Swiss firm Leica Geosystems in 2001, Kacyra dedicated his energy to the application of the new technology to the documentation of archaeological and cultural heritage resources through CyArk. CyArk’s primary focus has been the documentation and digital preservation of threatened ancient and historical architecture found at sites such as Colorado's Mesa Verde, Italy's Pompeii, Wyoming’s Fort Laramie, and Kacyra's native Mosul in Iraq – also known as the biblical Assyrian city of Nineveh.

CyArk has generated a fairly large amount of publicity since its inception. Initially, this was in part due to the relevance of Kacyra's life story to the ongoing Iraq War, during which much of the country's cultural patrimony was destroyed amidst a spasm of looting and heavy military damage to important historical sites such as Babylon and Samarra. In recent years, however, Kacyra has taken on more of an advisory role while the independent CyArk organization has gathered considerable momentum as a major entity in the historic preservationist and cultural resource/heritage management communities. Ben Kacyra still remains as the organization’s primary public face, and he is a popular speaker at conferences such as Google’s Zeitgeist (2008), and TEDGlobal (2011), generally discussing his life story and the potential of digital preservation to save the “collective treasure” of global heritage.

Project focus[edit]

3-dimensional projection of Tikal Temple II

CyArk's mission statement notes that it is "dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage sites through the CyArk 3D Heritage Archive, an internet archive which is the repository for heritage site data developed through laser scanning, digital modeling, and other state-of-the-art spatial technologies.". According to an interview with Ben Kacyra in National Geographic (October 2010), digital data such as that stored with CyArk could theoretically be used both for monitoring and managing gradual processes of architecture degeneration at cultural sites. These data could also serve as potential blueprints for reconstruction following catastrophic events, such as the Afghan Taliban’s notorious demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001 or the 2010 destruction by suspected arson of the Royal Tombs of Kasubi, Uganda. As noted in National Geographic Magazine (Dec. 2011), the Kasubi Tombs were digitally preserved by CyArk before their demise, providing a lasting digital record and potential blueprint for reconstruction effort.

CyArk’s publicly accessible web archive focuses on each archaeological site studied with a short film introduction, a slideshow of site history and the digital preservation process carried out, a site plan, geo-located multimedia on the plan (also accessible in an image gallery), three-dimensional images of site details such as rooms and profiles (often taken from a "point cloud" image showing the raw scan data), and computer-generated reconstructions. Befitting the public educational aspect of their mission, CyArk has granted permission for reuse of some of its images through a Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike license, while the rest are freely accessible through the site.

CyArk’s online mission statement expresses the belief that the dissemination of free digital content about heritage sites will encourage additional visitations by tourists, invigorating communities with cultural tourism related revenue. It further states that youth and educators will benefit from free, publicly accessible access to historical and site information, including some Creative Commons-licensed content, while the creation of digital records ensures that the sites are never lost forever and allows for the continued mining of information over time as technologies and methods of information extraction evolve.

As of October, 2011, CyArk has posted 28 finished projects on their official website for full public viewing:

  • Ancient Merv, a major crossroads along the ancient silk road in Turkmenistan
  • Ancient Thebes and the Ramesseum/Necropolis of Ramses II, Egypt
  • Angkor Wat’s western causeway and Banteay Kdei areas, Cambodia
  • The Bab al-Barqiyya Gate, a portion of the Ayyubid Wall in Cairo, Egypt
  • A Carmelite Church in Weissenburg, Germany
  • Beauvais Cathedral, a Gothic masterwork in France
  • Chavin De Huantar, 3500 year-old capital of the Chavin culture, Peru
  • Chichen Itza, ancient Yucatán Maya center and pilgrimage site, Mexico
  • Deadwood, the legendary Old West city in South Dakota, United States
  • Fort Conger, a 19th-century Arctic exploration camp located on Northeastern Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canada.
  • Fort Laramie, historic center of the Plains Indian Wars and the Oregon Trail, United States
  • The Hypogeum of the Volumnis, an intact Etruscan tomb near Perugia, Italy
  • Mesa Verde’s Spruce Tree House, Square Tower House, and Fire Temple, ancestral Puebloan cliff structures in Colorado, United States
  • Monte Alban, the capital of the ancient Zapotecs of Oaxaca, Mexico
  • Nineveh, imperial capital of the Assyrian Empire, Iraq
  • Piazza Del Duomo’s Baptistery, Cathedral, and Campanile (also known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa), Italy
  • Pompeii, ancient Roman city buried under the volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, Italy. The CyArk website states that this project was also the first time laser scanning was used to document a cultural heritage site.
  • The Presidio of San Francisco, a historic military base, United States
  • Qal’at al-Bahrain, a 14th-century Portuguese fort built atop the remains of the ancient Dilmun civilization’s hilltop capitol, Bahrain
  • Rapa Nui (Easter Island), scans of the famous monuments and lesser-known structures of this very-isolated Polynesian culture site, Chile
  • Roman Baths of Weissenburg, one of the best-preserved examples of Thermae along the remote borders of the Roman Empire, Germany
  • Royal Kasubi Tombs, culturally vital mausoleum of the last four Bugandan Kings, Uganda. The Tombs were scanned and documented by CyArk in 2009 then largely destroyed by a fire in 2010, and data from the scans will be used for reconstruction efforts.
  • Saint Sebald Church, a medieval cathedral in Nuremberg that was heavily damaged during WWII but retained enough original architecture to allow for digital reconstructions, Germany
  • Church and Cloister of Saint-Trophime, a former cathedral in Arles that contains some of the world’s most notable Romanesque facades, France
  • The Pelourinho of Salvador da Bahia, historic downtown district of Brazil’s original capitol
  • Stone Bridge of Regensburg, 800-year-old bridge across the Danube, Germany
  • Tambo Colorado, an adobe-built strategic center of the ancient Inca empire, Peru
  • Tikal, one of the most important and longest-occupied cities of the ancient Maya world, Guatemala
  • Tudor Place, a Federal-style neoclassical mansion that served as home to six generations of George Washington’s immediate descendants

The CyArk website also has a section on hazards faced by global heritage (in general), composed of a world map delineating sites at risk from earthquakes as well as sea level rise due to Global Warming.


Although initially fully supported by the Kacyra family and their Kacyra Family Foundation, CyArk is now primarily funded through individual project funding, corporate in-kind support, and foundation grants/donations. CyArk has also established working relationships with numerous project partners in the engineering, media, and academic worlds; including Christofori und Partner, PBS, and UC Berkeley, where the company coordinated an internship program with the department of Anthropology in 2006-2007 and is currently an approved Work Study employer for Cal students. According to updates on the CyArk website, already-existing partnerships with the United States’ National Park Service (NPS), the United Kingdom’s Historic Scotland (HS), World Monuments Fund, and Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Anthropoligia y Historia (INAH) have been greatly expanded as of October 2011, with upcoming projects that include Mexico’s Teotihuacan, Scotland’s Rosslyn Chapel, Iraq’s Babylon, and the U.S.’ Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

References and external links[edit]