World’s largest 3D printer will recreate historic Syrian arch to highlight destruction of ancient Middle East sites

A 2,000-year-old arch in Syria which is all that remains of an ancient site destroyed by Daesh is to be recreated in London’s Trafalgar Square and New York’s Times Square as a “call to action’ over the destruction of antiquities in the Middle East.

The gateway is all that remains of the Temple of Bel in Palmyra, which was reduced to rubble by militants in August, who murdered its curator and used explosives to devastate the ancient ruins.

Now, the 15-metre arch, which many fear will soon be destroyed, is to be recreated using the world’s largest 3D printer.

The project is funded by the institute of Digital Archaeology (IDA), a joint venture between Dubai’s Museum of the Future, Harvard University in the USA and Oxford University in the UK.

The group has been dubbed “The real life Monuments Men”.

The archaeologists say it is a move to draw attention to what is happening to historic sites in Syria, Iraq and Libya

IDA executive director Roger Michel said: “We are saying to them if you destroy something, we can rebuild it again. The symbolic value of these sites is enormous, we are restoring dignity to people.

“We selected the arch as a specific tribute to the last remaining portion of the ancient site. Sadly, I don’ think it will be around for very long.”

The IDA director of technology, Alexy Karenowska, a physicist at Oxford University, said that the institute was supplying volunteers with 5,000 lightweight 3-D cameras — they are less precise but more discreet and easier to maintain than laser scanners — to document at-risk cultural sites throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

In April it will install a temporary full-scale replica of the Arch of the Temple of Baal in Palmyra based on its 3-D digital model. The arch’s current status is uncertain, although much of the temple appears to have been destroyed.

“Of course, a reproduction is only a reproduction, not the original object,” Karenowska said. “It can only ever be second best, but if we are in a situation where it is all that we have, I do think we should embrace the possibility of having that.”

Daesh overran Palmyra in May, then in August murdered Khaled Asaad, 82, who worked as head of antiquities there for more than 50 years.