Image - Cacao Pod Vessel - K6706 © Justin Kerr FAMSI © 2008:
Travis Doering and Lori Collins

The Kaminaljuyú Sculpture Project: An Expandable Three-Dimensional Database
Vea este informe en Español.

Figure 12. Screen capture of scan images of the front and reverse sides of Pedestal Monument 4, MN#2053, from Kaminaljuyú, curated at the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in Guatemala City.

Research Year:  2007
Culture:  Maya
Chronology:  Late Pre-Classic, Early Classic
Location:  Guatemala
Site:  Kaminaljuyú

Table of Contents

The Significance of the Site of Kaminaljuyú
The Beginning
An Economic, Linguistic, and Social Interface
The Kaminaljuyú Sculptural Corpus
Three-Dimensional Laser Scanning and Mesoamerican Sculpture
The Kaminaljuyú Sculpture Project: Data Collection and Processing
The Mesoamerican Three-Dimensional Imaging Project
Closing Comments
List of Figures
Sources Cited

"Every later Mesoamerican society developed within a framework that was laid in the Pre-Classic. The material features that we see archaeologically as typical of Mesoamerica took their essential form during this period."  (Joyce and Grove 1999:2)


Recent epigraphic and iconographic work in Mesoamerica (e.g., Guernsey 2006; Houston 2004; Rodríguez-Martínez et al. 2006; Saturno et al. 2006) lends further support to the statement made by Joyce and Grove above. These and other investigations demonstrate that the Formative period (c. 1250 BCE to 250 CE) was a pivotal time in the evolution from symbolic or iconographic depictions to writing systems as well as in the materialization of the Mesoamerican calendrical system (Rice 2007). To better analyze and determine the sequence of stages in these changes, it is advantageous to have a substantial body of comparative material with which to work. Furthermore, the assemblage of material should span the chronological period that is inclusive of the actions deemed significant in the maturation of these systems. For these and other reasons that are discussed below, the corpus of stone and ceramic sculpture from the site of Kaminaljuyú has been selected for documentation.

The purpose of the Kaminaljuyú Sculpture Project, which was wholly sponsored by the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerica Studies, Inc., (FAMSI), is to provide a foundation for an expandable three-dimensional database of sculpted ceramic and stone monuments from the Formative and Classic period site of Kaminaljuyú in present-day Guatemala City. The three-dimensional images in this database allow Mesoamerican scholars, iconographers, epigraphers, or other interested parties to study the sculptures at a level of detail and in a virtual reality not previously possible. The complete data sets for each piece permit the researcher to examine the artifact on their office, lab, or home computer as thoroughly and meticulously as if the object were physically present. Besides being viewable in three-dimensions, the images are manipulable a full 360º, they can be enlarged for closer scrutiny, the light source can be maneuvered to any angle to bring out or enhance desired detail, and extremely accurate on-screen measurements can be made anywhere on the object. This database allows researchers anywhere in the world to conduct visual analysis and investigation without having to visit the actual artifact.

The objectives of this project were multifaceted. We wanted to remove several of the obstacles that had previously hindered a systematic, coordinated, and broad-based study of Kaminaljuyú's stone sculpture. Kaplan (1995b:1) has identified the critical research problem relative to the monuments at Kaminaljuyú, the "sculptures and sculptural fragments in the ancient city's monumental corpus have not been studied with the aim of integrating iconography, ideology, and history." The causes of this problem are three-fold. First, the corpus is disunited and dispersed. Second, only a few of the pieces that are known have been documented sufficiently for critical iconographic and epigraphic analysis. The third problem is a result of the first two, the availability of the pieces for study and research has been severely restricted. The three-dimensional database of Kaminaljuyú sculpture alleviates these obstacles.

The dispersed sculpted pieces were first located and then permissions acquired to document them at the site and in various museums, storage facilities, parks, and national and international private collections where they were found. The majority of pieces identified as originating from Kaminaljuyú were at the three major museums in Guatemala City: the Popol Vuh, Miraflores, and the Guatemala National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. The National Museum had more than 100 documented carved pieces from the site, some of which were on display while others were located in various parts of the bodega and other off-display storage areas.

Kaplan (1995b:1) also called attention to the difficulty in accessing the data that had been collected. We wanted these new data to be available in a format that could be readily used by researchers and that images could be freely obtained by those with an interest in the sculptures. Another consideration was the ability to compare the corpus of work from Kaminaljuyú to a growing body of contemporaneous sculpture from other Mesoamerican Formative period sites (e.g., La Venta, Izapa, or Takalik Abaj). This element of comparability along with the ability to add new materials meant that the database had to be expandable. This feature would allow the addition of data collected by other investigators and as more sculptures came to light or became available they could be added to the corpus. Finally, we were concerned with the long-term preservation of the data. The method of storage and format was designed to allow these data to be used, augmented, and improved as new technologies are developed in the future. With support from and collaboration with FAMSI, we believe that these project objectives have been achieved.

Click to download the full report in PDF format:

The Kaminaljuyú Sculpture Project: An Expandable Three-Dimensional Database  (4.03 MB)

The PDF files require Adobe Acrobat Reader.
To download the latest version, click the Get Acrobat Reader button below.

Get Acrobat Reader

Submitted 02/14/2008 by:
, Ph.D.
, Ph.D.
University of South Florida
Tampa, FL

Return to top of page