Mayan village in 3D

Technically “Cool”

This reconstruction of the discovered tomb under the ruins, in crosssection, was created using photogrammetry and 3D modeling.
This reconstruction of the discovered tomb under the ruins, in crosssection, was created using photogrammetry and 3D modeling. (source: website)

A recent issue (“Digging for Details” Volume: 30 Issue: 8 (Aug 2007)) of Computer Graphics World provided insight to an ancient Mayan city, rebuilt in digital 3D form. Clement Valla, an architect who utilizes 2d and 3d graphics, worked with Allan Maca, an archaeologist from Colgate University, to recreate an ancient temple area of Copan (near present-day Honduras).

This project is interesting for a number of points. First, the importance of using technology, such as high-end 3D computer modeling for academic and scientific purposes, should always be at the forefront of our minds, as 3D modelers, animators, and artists.

Second, this project illustrates the importance of technology for cultural continuance. Projects such as this allow individuals virtual access to aspects of material culture that might otherwise not be available to them. For instance, whereas scientifically-trained archaeologists might be allowed to view and handle various artifacts, most of us “regular folk” would not have the same opportunity (and rightly so, as mistreatment or mishandling of the artifact could permanently damage such evidence).

Yet, by reconstructing ancient villages, burial sites, temples, and even individual artifacts, the general public is allowed to break through the “glass case,” metaphorically, and experience the culture on a more immediate basis.

3D Simulation for Indigenous Culture

This type of immersive, 3D simulated environment is especially important for Indigenous groups, like the Caddo Nation, whose material artifacts represent a key aspect of more fully understanding and preserving the culture itself. This idea lends itself to another added benefit of using 3D modeling and animations (i.e., simulations) for Indigenous representation: cultural continuance: by immersing the audience within the simulated experience, important lessons and culture-specific perspectives are communicated in a virtual milieu.

In all, projects like this one are important for many reasons, including those mentioned above. However, as always, it is important to utilize Native-perspective when creating representations of culture in any media format. While the article listed many of entities involved in its creations – the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at Colgate University (New York), in partnership with PAPAC (funded by National Geographic and Colgate) and sponsored by the Honduran Ministry of Culture – there was no mention of any Indigenous-specific individuals working on this the PAPAC project.

Of course, the article might have overlooked this element (Allan Maca, Colgate archaeologist, does not have his specific ethnicity listed)…but too many times these sort of endeavors are not implemented by Native people ourselves. Thus, while all this (virtual reconstruction and recreation) is very COOL, there is a specific need for Indigenous people to author ANY media containing Indigenous representation, in order to maintain a truer ethnic/cultural perspective (versus a Euro-centric one). (For extra credit: This theme is a major one present in my book, “Native Americans in Comic Books,” coming soon from McFarland Publications.)

To sum

I welcome more endeavors like the PAPAC project, both from a technological and cultural perspective. Yet (just like in almost every other media), there needs to be more Native interaction from the creative perspective.

aNm continues to look for major projects that support these ideals (technology and cultural continuance), as well as financial opportunities that can facilitate such projects. If you know of any such activities, please contact aNm and share your ideas.

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