3D Scanning Project

In 2007 the Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions (CMHI) research program at the Peabody Museum launched a 3D scanning project to document endangered ancient Maya monuments, in collaboration with several governments and institutions for the purposes of conservation, research, illustration, publication, and education. High-resolution 3D models were created for over 30 Maya sculptures from 10 different archaeological sites, including fragile modeled stucco façades, and the entire 64-step Hieroglyphic Stairway at Copan, Honduras. Documentation also took place at the archaeological sites of Tikal, Holmul, Cival, and Naranjo in Guatemala, and museum collections of Guatemala and United States. 

Team scanning Building A at Holmul.
Alexandre Tokovinine and Adelso Canan scanning Building A, Group II, Holmul. Photo by Keith Merwin.
Polychrome stucco facade of intertwined birds and planetary band
Margarita stucco facade, Copan, Honduras, 3D rendering.

As the widespread application of 3D digitizing systems continues to expand within archaeology and cultural heritage management, a goal of this project was to set the standards specifically for 3D scanning of Maya monuments as well as share the digital 3D models with researchers and the public worldwide. Models created from the extremely detailed 3D image captures can be fabricated to preserve solid replicas of monuments, and greatly aid epigraphers deciphering the ancient scripts. Scaled 3D prints of Copan's Hieroglyphic Stairway are assisting in a new and more accurate reconstruction of this monument.

3D model screenshot of Tikal ball court marker disk and ball on column
3D renderings: Tikal ball court marker, and Copan, Hieroglyphic Stairway block.
three different raking lightings on a hieroglyphic block

Virtual 3D models can be viewed from multiple angles with changeable raking light direction that enables epigraphers to see details of the glyphs on the computer screen that may be invisible to the naked eye. 

Digital scanning is non-invasive and creates a detailed, undistorted record, which helps to preserve the incredibly rich material heritage of the ancient Maya culture from the combined threats of deteriorating environmental conditions, negligence, vandalism.

Each 3D model is produced from multiple overlapping scans of an object captured from various angles. The CMHI used a portable optical system of structured white light that projects a series of patterns on the surface of the object being scanned.

person at computer screen in the dark adjusting a 3D scan
Data capture at night; Optical scanner at base of Copan Hieroglyphic Stairway.
3D scanner mounted on a tripod in front of an inscription

Data was captured at the following resolutions:

Highest resolution 0.055mm/ lens 90mm FOV (field of view)
Medium resolution 0.18mm/ lens 300mm FOV
Lowest resolution 0.36mm/ lens 600mm FOV

Regardless of the data capture resolution, at least four versions of each model are processed at different resolutions and compressions and saved for different uses.

Related Links:  

Symbols, 2008 pgs 17–20. [Link coming soon]



Barbara Fash, 2011, “Beyond the Naked Eye: Multidimensionality of Sculpture in Archaeological Illustration” http://www.doaks.org/research/pre-columbian/resources-for-pre-columbian-scholars-1/past-presented-a-symposium-on-the-history-of-archaeological-illustration/doaks-pco-symposium-2009-10-09-abstracts

Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions 3D Imaging Report 2013 [PDF]