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Capturing History With Digital Lasers At Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

National Park News

Getting a bird’s eye view of the presidential sculpture is impossible at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, but not for long. The memorial is in the process of creating a 3D digital laser scan of the sculpture and many more historic resources at the park. The scanning data will be used to create a digital preservation record of the memorial as well as opportunities for interactive virtual tours, 3D modeling, and a chance for visitors to see places they have not had access to in the past.

Mount Rushmore is partnering with the Kacyra Family Foundation and their project CyArk to capture the scanning data.  The Kacyra Family Foundation and CyArk have also undertaken many other scanning projects within the National Park Service, including Mesa Verde National Park and Fort Laramie National Historic Site, and are working with other units on future projects. The scanning of Mount Rushmore is also a part of the Cyark 500 initiative to digitally preserve 500 of the world’s heritage sites.

To help with the project, the Kacyra Family Foundation called on digital design experts from Historic Scotland and the Glasgow School of Art.  As a part of an initiative from the Scottish government, Historic Scotland has not only committed to digitally preserving the five World Heritage Sites in Scotland, but they have also committed their support and expertise at scanning and preserving five culturally significant sites around the world.  Mount Rushmore is the first of their international projects.  The team has also called upon local experts and support in the surrounding Black Hills area, including Wyss and Associates and Respec Engineering, for assistance in surveying and for the GIS data that is needed for the project.

This international team of digital preservationists is working with the staff at Mount Rushmore to capture the digital data at the park.  The team is using three different types of terrestrial laser scanners that are capable of capturing 50,000 plus dimension points a second.  The highly accurate data is giving the National Park Service the opportunity to use cutting edge technology to interpret and record one of America’s icons.

Mount Rushmore has set up an updated website about the project.  To follow the scanning progress, go online at and click the quicklink “2010 Digital Scanning.”


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