The use of 3D printing to recreate building structures from the past using nothing more than photos showcases the extraordinary potential of the technology for the design and building sectors of the future.

Archaeologists are using 3D printing technology to bring one of the ancient world’s most iconic architectural works back to life following its likely destruction amidst recent political turmoil.

The Palmyra Arch, esteemed as one of the great architectural treasures of Near Eastern antiquity, was built approximately 2000 years ago to serve as the entrance to the Temple of Bel in the ancient Semitic city of Palmyra, located to the northeast of modern-day Damascus.

In the wake of the Syrian Civil War and ISIL’s conquest of the region in which Palmyra is situated, many observers speculate that the arch has been severely damaged if not completely destroyed.

“Its status is unknown,” said Alexy Karenowska, director of technology at the Institute of Digital Archaeology. “Given the level of destruction in Palmyra, it seems unlikely that it has survived without some damage, but if it remains standing in any form, it represents an outstanding symbol of resilience.”

In response to the probable destruction of the Palmyra Arch, the Institute of Digital Archaeology has announced that it will reproduce two copies of the entire 15-metre arch using 3D printing technology.

Two versions of the arch will be produced off-site using a large-scale additive printing device, before being dispatched to both London and New York for assembly and display during the UNESCO World Heritage Week in April 2016.

The creation of accurate replicas of the Palmyra Arch is possible thanks to the compilation of recent detailed 3D photos of the building structure.

In 2015, the Institute worked with UNESCO to capture images of imperilled heritage structures throughout the Middle East for posterity, distributing thousands of cheap 3D cameras to volunteer photographers throughout the region.

The Institute hopes to compile as many as 20 million images of vulnerable structures by 2017 and place them on a database for both research and 3D replication purposes.

“Digital archaeology represents the natural evolution of classical archaeology, permitting researchers to look at ancient objects in a whole new way, to uncover hidden inscriptions, invisible paint lines, the faintest palimpsests – and to share these discoveries with the world,” said the institute.

In addition to bringing invaluable heritage buildings from the past back to life, the Institute’s Palmyra Arch project also demonstrates the extraordinary potential of 3D printing for the building and construction sectors of the future – in particular the ability of the technology to manufacture just about any type of building design off-site for subsequent assembly in situ.