3D terrestrial laser scanners have been deployed in Peru to create a high-resolution digital 3D terrain model of an ancient fortress.
Kuélap is one of the largest ancient monuments in the Americas – and one of the most endangered. In spring 2022, the 1,000-year-old fortification in northern Peru suffered massive damage from heavy rains in the Amazon.
On the initiative of UNESCO and the Peruvian Ministry of Culture, an international research consortium, documented this impressive cultural monument using the latest LIDAR laser scanning technology and created a basis for future monitoring strategies and virtual preservation of the monument.
The fortress of Kuélap sits 3,000m above sea level on a ridge of the Andes in northern Peru. It was the political centre of the Chachapoya, a pre-Columbian culture that existed from about 900 to 1400 AD. Kuélap has long been a major tourist attraction in Peru, and since 2019 it has been on the proposal list for inclusion as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the Chachapoyas sites in Peru’s Utcubamba Valley.
In the spring of 2022, Kuélap suffered extensive rain damage which led to the collapse of parts of the fortress’s enclosing wall and its subsequent closure to the public.
At the end of September 2022, experts recorded the site in three dimensions using various remote sensing methods during a two-week field mission. They met the challenge of very steep and difficult to access terrain with the combined use of terrestrial and airborne methods, which enabled the complete documentation of the fortress. These included terrestrial laser scanning (TLS), drone-based laser scanning (ALS) and image-based modelling.
In the subsequent integrated analysis of the various datasets, the research team created a high-resolution digital 3D terrain model of the entire fortress of Kuélap, in which the more than 500 round stone houses, the enclosing wall and numerous other structures that are still visible on the surface were recorded with centimetre precision.
The investigations in Kuélap attracted a great deal of attention from national and international heritage management and conservation institutions. The Peruvian Minister of Culture as well as delegates from UNESCO and the World Monuments Fund (WMF), visited the site during the research. They saw how current actions are guiding further decisions on sustainable monitoring strategies for the endangered heritage site, and also providing a foundation for virtual conservation and accessibility for future generations.
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Main Image: Martin St-Amant