The Mayan people had a civilisation seemingly far more advanced than that of the civilisations Europeans met when they first came to America in the 15th and 16th centuries but it had at that point already been extinct for several hundreds years.
The Mayan civilisation fascinates many though and this includes various historians and scientists interested in how the civilisation developed separate from other comparable civilisations and how this reflects on human nature and social sciences.
3D scanning has been helping people discover more about the Mayans and to preserve records of their culture and language for five years now and although the project is finished for now what has been learnt has been used on many other archaeology projects around the world with the 3D scanning service technology becoming increasingly widespread.
Using a 3D scanning service many ancient Mayan monuments have been scanned by the CMHI (Corpus of Hieroglyphic Inscriptions) at the Peabody museum of Archaeology and Ethnology affiliated with Harvard University.
The five year project has now mapped using 3D scanning some 30 monuments in their entirety including their hieroglyphic inscriptions. Also the Hieroglyphic stairway, including some 64 steps, that is located in Honduras has been digitalized using a 3D scanning service.
Already many of these scanned monuments have been shared with researchers and also the public across the world meaning that many more people can examine and try to understand the importance of the monuments and inscriptions and as they say many hands makes light work.
Each monument is scanned in sections, often several hundred depending on size, these scans can then be joined together on a computer using measurement data to make sure that every piece fits perfectly. Each monument has been scanned four times to create four different resolutions for different purposes and these are then saved in different formats for use with different software and to allow importing into other projects. Lower resolution versions are suitable for sharing online and some are available to the public to use and can be used with open source software such as Google Sketchup.
Some of the monuments are protected and only certain limited numbers of archaeologists can visit them close up, having 3D scanning means that digital versions have been made that can be viewed by anyone, on screen they can be manipulated and looked at from every conceivable angle as well as zoomed in upon.
Using the right software almost obscured hieroglyphs that have been weathered away can be enhanced to make them clearer meaning far more is being learnt about the Mayan civilisation that could have been without 3D scanning.
By combining 3D scanning with 3D printing it is even possible to create highly accurate models of the monuments, this includes scaled down models of entire monuments but also scaled up models of sections of the monuments. These can then be used to study or used in museums and other exhibits.
Publically available 3D scanned files include individual blocks from the hieroglyphic stairway and a Mayan alter; it is hoped that amateur archaeologists will potentially make discoveries that have been missed by the professionals.