Thursday, May 8, 2014

Imaging Izapa

The 79th Annual Meeting of the SAA, Society for American Archaeology, was held April 23 - 27, 2014 in Austin, Texas. On Sunday, April 27th, one of the sessions was a symposium on digital archaeology. Garth Norman and Jason Jones presented a paper about their work photographing the monuments of Izapa with RTI reflectance transformation imaging. This advanced 3D imaging technique reveals surface information not visible to the naked eye and results in more accurate renderings of plaster, wood or stone carvings than was possible in an earlier era using line drawings and traditional 2D photography. Richard D. Hansen, Director of the Mirador Basin Project, was in attendance and responded favorably to the Norman/Jones presentation.

After SAA wrapped up, they were on the same plane to Guatemala City. Hansen went to his massive project site in the northern Peten, often called the cradle of Maya civilization. Norman and Jones went to Izapa and spent a week imaging more monuments, both in the Soconusco Archaeological Museum in Tapachula and on site. The data gathering phase of the Izapa imaging project, begun in 2010, is now substantially complete.

Jones posted a video (no audio) of some of the stela 5 imagery on YouTube. A video (with audio) of stela 4 imagery explains how RTI works and shows why the technique is so powerful for determining what the original artists actually carved despite weathering over the years that has degraded the surface of the stone.

A team from the Peabody Museum at Harvard is doing very similar work on a large scale with Maya monuments and inscriptions as part of their CMHI Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions archival project.

A team from LSU is using the technique coupled with 3D printing to build plastic replicas of wooden Maya artifacts that have been preserved for centuries in saltwater lagoons and peat bogs, but which deteriorate rapidly when exposed to air.

Interestingly, the LSU underwater Maya project is in Payne's Creek not far from Punta Gorda, Belize and very close to the submerged ruins in the Tiger Mound area we correlate with the drowned city of Moroni 3 Nephi 8:9.

Proposed City of Moroni just offshore Punta Gorda, Belize