Chichén Itzá, Mexico

An ancient Mayan metropolis



CyArk scanning Chichen Itza by CyArkCyArk

Expedition Overview

In 2007, the Oakland, California-based Chabot Space and Science Center, in conjunction with InSight Digital and ArtsLab, embarked upon a mission to produce high definition laser and photographic data from the ruins of Chichén Itzá’s civic core for its ambitious Maya Skies Project. CyArk was called upon to spearhead the mission for its expertise in the digital documentation and heritage fields. In October of the same year CyArk assembled a documentation team to be sent to the Yucatán, in conjunction with  Michigan partners Metco Services. Over the course of three weeks, a highly detailed data set was produced which included terrestrial LiDAR, close-range laser scanning, panoramic photography, HDR photography, and traditional survey. Dozens of scans were produced from a Leica Geosystems Scan Station laser scanner, including 37 scans of the Caracol structure alone, which was the most complex structure and the main focus of the project. Six other important structures in the civic core were also thoroughly scanned, including El Castillo. A followup expedition was conducted by Epic Scan to record the Balankanche Cave. The entire project was made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

A panoramic view of El Caracol by CyArkCyArk

Introducing Chichén Itzá

The ancient Maya ruins of Chichén Itzá, located on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula about 50 miles inland south of the Caribbean coastline, represent the remains of one of the largest and most powerful city states of the pre-Columbian Americas. While the fully-restored monumental core of Chichén Itzá's archaeological zone covers approximately 5 square kilometers and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, the estimated extent of dense urban development at the city's peak is thought to have reached 25 square kilometers. However, much of these surrounding ruins have not been excavated and are currently covered with a mixture of dense forest and farms. Chichén Itzá translates as "At the Mouth of the Well of the Itza" in Yucatec Mayan, a reference to the nearby Sacred Cenote, or sinkhole, where offerings were made to various deities and from which the city derived much of its water supply. Chichén Itzá was a cosmopolitan city that contained monuments and buildings in a range of different architectural styles. This range is reflective of both local Yucatecan styles and influence from several prominent Mesoamerican cultural groups and clans that were drawn to the city as a regional center during its long history of occupation.

3-D point cloud scan of El Castillo by CyArkCyArk

El Castillo, the Temple of Kukulcan

The Mayan's sophisticated understanding of mathematics and astronomy is imprinted onto their monumental structures. One such building, Temple of Kukulcan, known popularly as El Castillo is located towards the south of the Great Plaza. It is a large step pyramid made of cut limestone blocks atop a rubble-fill core that reaches 30 meters in height with a base extending over 55 meters across.  At the spring and fall equinoxes, the setting sun casts undulating shadows on the stairway, forming bodies for the serpent heads carved at the base of the north balustrades, pointing towards the sacred cenote. A large square temple with four doorways sits atop the highest terrace of where important ceremonies would have taken place. The northern entrance (facing the Sacred Cenote) is the largest and most ornate of the upper temple’s four entrances. Two great serpent balustrades flank this portal and support the stone lintel above. Inside the temple are representations of Chaak, the Mayan rain deity, on the facades.

Open Heritage 3D by CyArkCyArk

Data from this project is now freely available through Open Heritage 3D.

Download the data from this project.

About Open Heritage 3D

The mission of the Open Heritage 3D project is to:

● Provide open access to 3D cultural heritage datasets for education, research and other
non-commercial uses.

● Minimize the technical, financial and legal barriers for publishers of 3D heritage data.

● Promote discovery and re-use of datasets through standardized metadata and data formats.

● Foster community collaboration and knowledge sharing in the 3D cultural heritage community.

● Share best practices and methodologies for the capture, processing and storage of 3D cultural heritage data

Credits: Story

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This project was made possible through the generous support of Chabot Space and Science Center and the following partners:

Mexico's National Institute for History and Anthropology

Metco Services

Centre Nacional de la Recherche Scientifique, Western Thebes French Archaeological Mission (MAFTO)

Epic Scan



Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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