Digital archaeologists' have secretly scanned the 2,500-year-old Parthenon Marbles inside the British Museum — with the hope of creating 'perfect' replicas that could one day lead to the repatriation of the originals to Greece as first reported by MailOnline.
The researchers took the detailed 3D images by stealth after the museum rejected a formal request.
They used technology embedded in the latest camera phones and iPads to scan half a dozen of the sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles, so the files can be used to programme a 'robot sculptor' to carve replicas.
Experts from the Oxford-based Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA) hope marble blocks can be created with metal chisels, in much the same way the sculptures were created by the ancient Greek architect Phidias around 447–438 BC.
The marbles once shaped part of the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens but were stripped and shipped to Britain when Lord Elgin turned up in Greece in early 1800.
Roger Michel, ISA's executive director, scanned the sculptures after being ignored by security staff.
'They weren't upset, if anything they seemed somewhat amused,' he told MailOnline. 'We were being respectful.
'I think the museum was reluctant to give us formal permission because they don't want to be seen to be complicit in this project.'
Michel thinks that the museum will find it tough to argue against returning the originals to Greece if his team is successful in making the extremely accurate replicas.
'The originals were actually brightly coloured, garishly coloured even, so these statues of antiquity are actually being misrepresented,' Michel said.
'They are battered old white sculptures that don't reflect what the sculptor intended.
'We hope that the replicas will give the British Museum an opportunity to display the marbles in an honest and exciting way that is more educational, perhaps even alongside AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) to improve the viewer's experience.'
Michel and his colleague Dr Alexy Karenowska, the ISA's technical director, used a combination of Lidar and photogrammetry to create the 3D scans.
Lidar, which has recently been added to Apple's iPhone, uses laser light to create a 3D representation by measuring distances to a fraction of a millimetre, while photogrammetry works by taking a number of individual images and stitching them together.
The scans have also captured two millennia of damage caused by war, acid rain and earthquakes.
These copies will be used to programme a 'robot sculptor' to carve new statues from blocks of the same Pentelic marble used by Phidias and his assistants almost 2,500 years ago.