Chinese engineers have digitally reproduced a celebrated Buddhist temple grotto.
State news agency Xinhua reported that it took six months and 20 3D printers working around the clock to print the 17.9-metre long, 13.6-metre wide and 10-metre tall grotto.
Its dimensions mirror exactly the largest Buddhist sculptural cave at Yungang Grottoes, a Unesco World Heritage Site in Shanxi province.
The project, jointly developed by researchers from Zhejiang University and the administrators of Yungang Grottoes, is the first time that 3D printing technology has been used to replicate a cultural relic, experts told Xinhua.
The replica has now gone on display to the public in Qingdao in the eastern province of Shandong.
The reproduction used data from nearly 10,000 photographs taken over a two-year period to plot the exact shape and dimensions of the grotto, producing 852 different sections to be assembled into the whole.
The difference in the dimensions of the original and its duplicate would be no more than one millimetre, the researchers said.
Diao Changyu, an expert from Zhejiang University, told local television that to keep the sandstone texture of the original, the team spent over half a year fine-tuning special paint that reproduced the exact shade.
Yungang Grottoes, a Unesco world heritage, are a series of ancient Buddhist temples carved in the grottoes near the city of Datong in the province of Shanxi province.
Built in the fifth and sixth centuries, during the Northern Wei dynasty, the grottoes – which consist of just over 250 caves, 1,100 niches and 59,000 Buddha statues – are regarded by many as the best examples of architecture carved out of the rocks in China.
Zhang Zhuo, the director of the Yungang Grottoes Research Centre, told Xinhua that engineers were working on a replica of two other caves and the duplicates would go on display in Japan next year.