Machu Picchu was once an incredibly beautiful city. While the lost city may be in ruins now, the craftmanship of the stonework has remained stunning after thousands of years, lending credence to the true jewel that the city once was.
This Inca city is not only one of the most recognizable archaeological icons, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Due to the economic and cultural importance of this historical site, Machu Picchu is visited my millions of people from around the world.
However, due to its popularity, the Inca Trail has become degraded in recent years and a permit policy had to be enforced.
While the ruins themselves have very little restriction right now, this will likely change in the future, as the need to preserve the site will override its economic contributions.
Fortunately, it will soon become possible to explore Machu Picchu without stepping foot on the actual site.
A lab team from MIT has been working in collaboration with San Antonio Abas del Cusco University and the Decentralized Directorate of Culture of Cusco, to create a 3-D model of Machu Picchu.
While the MISTI Global Seed Fund Machu Picchu Design Heritage project was created in 2016, they only began the project during their weeks-long visits in mid-2017 and early 2018.
The team collected over 9,000 images that will be used to create their 3-D virtual and augmented reality site map.
It may sound very futuristic, but by using panoramic cameras, photogrammetric scanning tools and drones, the team has been able to record every aspect of the site.
The first reference of documentation of Machu Picchu, was in the 19th century by an explorer. Agustin Lizarraga registered his visit by carving “July 14, 1902” into the wall of the Temple of the Three Windows.
It was only a few years later, in 1911, when a Yale University Professor – Hiram Bingham – decided to document the site extensively and declare its existence to the world.
Thankfully, technology has improved to the point where we do not need to scratch our names into rock walls or use tape measures anymore.
We can now use the latest generation scanning tools and cameras to document every inch of our heritage sites and then use these images to create a virtual model and database.
The models are so extensive and thorough, that they can be used in conservation efforts – such as when they used the models to help them reconstruct Winãy Wayna (located on the Inca Trail), which was severely damaged in a flood.
The Architectural Representation and Computation Group has been in contact with the heritage conservation of Peru as well as higher education institutes, as it is their intention to expand the project of digital documentation to other heritage sites in Peru.
While the model is not completed yet, you can see the work that they have done. The MIT Design Heritage Platform has been available since December 2017, and visitors are able to explore what they have done thus far.