Cultural Heritage Spotlight: Templo Mayor in Mexico with Cyark

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Our Cultural institutions Page highlights our ongoing support of museums and cultural institutions with free accounts and access to tools. In Cultural Heritage Spotlight, we’ll explore museums and cultural institutions who are using 3D technology to bring new life to their collections. Today’s blog post features CyArk, a nonprofit organization which goal is to capture, archive and share the world’s cultural heritage.

CyArk is a nonprofit organization based in California with the mission to capture, archive and share the world’s cultural heritage before it is lost to natural disaster, destroyed by human aggression or ravaged by the passage of time. The organization has archived over 200 sites spanning 43 countries and all seven continents with an eye towards their perpetual preservation. We shared one of their models from Somaliland which you can view here along with more information on the organization.

The site of Templo Mayor in Mexico city is a unique cross section of Mexico’s long and diverse heritage. Rediscovered in only 1978, the ongoing excavation stands in stark contrast to the modern skyscrapers and baroque cathedrals that surround it.

TemploMayor_GBS Shoot 3


Templo Mayor or the “Great Temple” was one of the principal Aztec temples in the capital city of Tenochtitlan (roughly equivalent to Mexico City’s historic core). The temple formed part of the sacred precinct, a ceremonially important area, consisting of more than 78 structures. Two shrines were located at the top of the temple and were dedicated to the god of war Huitzilopochtli and to Tlaloc the god of rain and agriculture.

Construction of the first temple began sometime after 1325 and was rebuilt over six times reaching a final height of 50 meters. Spanish conquistadors demolished the Sacred Precinct in 1521, using the stones to build the cathedral located just West of the current excavation. For 457 years the structure lay forgotten beneath modern Mexico City until 1978 when electrical workers digging in the main plaza rediscovered the site.

Although many of the more sensitive artifacts recovered from the site have been removed to the associated museum, the majority of the site remains uncovered and exposed to the elements. As a result of heavy air pollution, acid rain often falls on Mexico City and has irreversibly damaged the sensitive stone artifacts already. Of special concern are nine carved serpent heads and two carved frog figurines that remain in situ and feature original pigmentation, one of which you can explore here.

CyArk worked with the Templo Mayor conservators and staff to scan a selection of their most delicate objects including the frogs and serpents to ensure that there is a record of the collection lest they continue to degrade. This pro-bono project will serve as a baseline to compare future scans to assess the rate of deterioration, as well as serve as the foundation for Templo Mayor’s 3D collections. Those interested in supporting the completion of the Project are encouraged to visit cyark.org/donate to contribute and get involved.

Caracol_Templo Mayor Museum

Unlike the previous model we featured from CyArk which utilized terrestrial LiDAR, this little frog was captured using a technology called Structured Light Scanning. The process of modeling from this data is somewhat different due to the way in which the data itself is captured.

Unlike terrestrial LiDAR which emits a single beam of light and then calculates its time of flight, Structured Light Scanning pulses a pattered of gridded LED light over the surface of the object and captures the surface it comes into contact with as a series of individual image frames. These billions of individual frames are then combined in post-processing to yield a single object. The Structured Light Scanned that CyArk uses, the Artec Eva, also has an on-board camera which captures color at the same time as surface geometry, a feature that is still making its way into the latest generation of terrestrial 3D scanners.

templo_mayor_4

The data capture at Templo Mayor was particularly problematic because of the exposed nature of the site. Where Structured Light Scanning works best in low-light scenarios, the team was working in the mid-day sun. This is problematic because sunlight washes out the LED light being emitted, preventing the machine’s sensors from capturing any data.

Thanks again for sharing, Makenna!

If you are part of a cultural institution, get in touch with us at museums@sketchfab.com to set up your free business account.

About the author

Raphaël Marchou

Cultural Heritage Enthusiast !


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  • Abby says:

    Great read! Thanks for sharing. How long does it take you guys to process laser data from a project the size of Templo Mayor?

    • Hey Abby! Thanks for the great question. It only takes a few days to process all that data into its raw state. In this case, we processed a couple of object scans from the museum containing site artifacts which they will use to 3D print reproductions which can be used for education or lent out to traveling exhibits.

  • Congratulations for an excelente work! I’m follower of CyA from several years ago, in fact, from the begin. Saludos from Cd. de México. I hope one day can see how you are working in México. GZG

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