High-tech imaging could help preserve historic cemeteries
By Brenda Sullivan - ReminderNews
Ashford - posted Mon., Oct. 28, 2013
One of the most familiar uses of 3D laser technology is forensic science, such as when a skull is used to create a digital image of the face of one of our prehistoric ancestors or of a murder victim from a cold case file.
The technology has been around for more than 40 years and has been used in fields such as aeronautics, but in more recent years its use has expanded to include efforts to document and preserve historic structures and artifacts.
Susan Bowley explained the how-to and uses of 3D laser technology – particularly how it could help preserve Ashford history – at a talk on Oct. 19 co-sponsored by the Ashford Historical Society and the Babcock Library.
Bowley is founder of a California-based consulting firm that uses 3D laser technology for crime scene and accident investigations, creating medical devices, animations and illustrations, historic documentation and restoration, and more.
She also is the daughter of the historic society’s president Joan Bowley, which explains how she was “drafted” to help with a preservation project in her hometown.
The goal of the project is to document gravestones in the town’s 20 cemeteries and possibly to create a three-dimensional replica of the cemetery and stones, a kind of virtual tour that could be accessed online by genealogists and historical researchers.
The historical society recently applied for a grant to begin the project – starting with just 10 stones – but was not accepted. However, the society is continuing to seek funding.
Some of the stones in Ashford’s cemeteries date from the mid-1700s and are in dire need of documentation “because they are crumbling,” Joan Bowley said.
The project would likely use a combination of technologies, Susan Bowley said – ground-penetrating radar for locating unmarked gravesites and 3D laser scanning to recreate the headstones and possibly even reconstruct parts of the carvings that have disintegrated.
She explained that 3D lasers are extremely accurate measuring devices that use light passing over the surface of the object. The equipment records these measurements as x, y and z coordinates that are downloaded to a computer to create a “data cloud.”
The real work is editing all this data so that the computer can create a visual representation of the image from all angles, Bowley said. A scanner for the Ashford project would cost about $3,000, she said.
Audience member Irene Brown suggested engaging other historical societies to share the cost and use of the equipment – or even form a regional entity with help from other groups, such as the Association for the Study of Connecticut History.
Joan Bowley emphasized the need to spread a ‘sense of urgency’when talking with others, especially local legislators, about preserving historic cemeteries.