Link to enlarge Archaeology Plate 107 ©Annie Hunter Travis Doering and Lori Collins

© 2007 Travis Doering and Lori Collins

The Takalik Abaj Monumental Stone Sculpture Project: High Definition Digital Documentation and Analysis, Guatemala
Prepared for and in collaboration with:  Schieber de Lavarreda & Orrego/Proyecto Nacional Tak'alik Ab'aj/Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes Dirección General del Patrimonio Cultural y Natural-IDAEH
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: We gratefully acknowledge the support, cooperation, collaboration and consent of Miguel Orrego Corzo and Christa Schieber de Lavarreda, Directors of the Proyecto Nacional Tak'alik Ab'aj; the Ministry of Culture and Sports; the Director General of Cultural and Natural Patrimony; and the Guatemalan Institute of Anthropology and History. We also express our appreciation to the staff members of the Proyecto Nacional Tak'alik Ab'aj whose daily assistance and efforts were so valuable to our success. Juan Carlos Melendez, Director at the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Guatemala City also is thanked for allowing access to collections and permission and assistance with documentation activities at the museum.

Special thanks are given for the important contributions of Felipe Guzman and the Guzman Montes family, who assisted us in multiple significant aspects of this project and provided us with their friendship and hospitality at Finca Buenos Aires. Felipe Guzman also assisted with logistics and arranged access for documentation on other fincas, and his participation was critical to the success of this project. Cooperation of the other finca owners was extremely helpful to this project, and the Finca Buenos Aires staff was indispensable to the success of our work. Industry support from Direct Dimensions, Inc. was also an important aspect of this project and we thank them for their contributions and expertise. Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation, Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences Archaeology Program Grant number BCS-0911078.

For over a century, archaeological investigations at the site of Takalik Abaj have focused on the site's monumental stone carvings (report pages 1-7). An assemblage of 124 carved monuments, among the 326 stone objects that have been registered at the site, are considered one of the most eclectic collections in all of Mesoamerica, and make up an important component of the corpus of Mesoamerican stone sculpture. Yet, collectively, this unique communicative record has not been documented or published in a coordinated, comprehensive manner amenable to detailed analytical study (report pages 8-10). The sculptures cannot be fully understood in isolation, however. They must be evaluated within an archaeological, sociological, and spatial context that defines the situation of the object. Therefore, context implies not only those objects directly associated with the monument, but also the constructed and natural features and modified landscapes, both immediate and remote. In other words, specific contexts must be placed within a series of broader settings.

The primary objective of the Takalik Abaj Monumental Stone Sculpture Project is to promote and facilitate independent and collaborative research into Middle Formative (c. 800 to 100 BC) and proto-Classic period (c. 100 BC to AD 300) archaeology, iconography, and epigraphy. To accomplish this goal the most accurate and complete visual, spatial, and historical documentation of the Takalik Abaj stone sculptures currently possible using "best available technologies" has been produced and are being made readily available to the international research community for purposes of preservation, management, analysis, and interpretation. A series of non-contact, non-destructive, state-of-the-art technologies were used to produce three-dimensional and two-dimensional imaging and to collect spatial location information that are incorporated into expressly prepared databases where they can be interactively examined, analyzed, and compared in readily accessible virtual environments.

The plan of work consisted of four primary components: 1) the recording and documentation of stone monuments, archaeological and architectural features from the site of Takalik Abaj using a variety of spatial and conventional techniques (report pages 11-39), 2) the processing and preparation of that data (report pages 39-46), 3) an evaluation of the results and their capability to improve iconographic and epigraphic analysis (report pages 46-56), and 4) the preparation and dissemination of the project results to the world-wide research community through web-based platforms for the purpose of long-term analysis and interpretation (report pages 56-69).

The purpose of the data capture and processing is to permit intensive and comprehensive analyses of the monuments that will be on-going into the future. In addition to evaluation of the styles of carving and iconographic and epigraphic content, researchers can conduct metrological surveys, examine the stone's morphology and spatial context, and its use and reuse. We have attempted to make the presentation of the spatial data to the researcher as objective as possible. We believe that it is imperative that the investigator be able to make their examinations and reach their own interpretations and conclusions with little or no external or biasing factors. Alternatively, we realize that it is equally important to provide the examiner with the thoughts, ideas, and impressions of other researchers. The latter objective is achieved separately through additional data that is presented in text, image, and bibliographic form that will be included with the web portal display of this project.

In addition to minimizing any visual subjectivity, we have also attempted to reduce any labeling or descriptive bias that is inherent in much of archaeological classification (report pages 61-68). To achieve the objectives of the project, interactive web database content are designed to offer the researcher two ways of approaching the data. The first provides the viewer the opportunity to observe, consider, and analyze the monuments in an objective, unbiased manner, and includes such data as context (GPS and terrestrial LiDAR) and high resolution imagery and terrain data. The second web content database directs viewers to past research and previous thoughts and interpretations of the objects through extensive bibliographic and image archives, as well as presenting the current data in several formats for visualization.

These two web portals, that will be cross-promoting but use different information visualization presentation styles, are constructed and maintained as part of the on-going research evolving from the data collection portion of the project. The web content and portals have data management plans to archive and protect the information obtained in this project, inclusive of the metadata. The University of South Florida AIST website will include a user-friendly interactive GIS interface that will allow visitors to the web portal to see where features and architecture are located, examine environmental and terrain data, and access photographic images that are linked to attribute details. This web portal will also have sections that showcase site level details, high resolution imagery, and 3D data from the project (see: Report Figures 27, 30, 33, 34, 48, 49 and 50). Data will be ready for sharing and dissemination through web spatial databases that can be easily accessed and freely available formats.

The second database is part of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI) web portal. The Takalik Abaj work has been incorporated into the Mesoamerican Three-Dimensional Imaging Project that was created by Doering and Collins in 2006 with FAMSI's support. The intension of this portal is to share and disseminate 3D imagery of stone monuments and other artifacts from Mesoamerica and to promote and facilitate their investigation and analysis internationally (see: Report Figures 37, 38, 42, 43, 45, 46, 47, and 51). The FAMSI web portal format contains primary reference source information, images and three-dimensional data, and videos and screen captures from a variety of projects. The FAMSI database is unique in that it is a relational database, with extensive cross-connected resources, references and research. The FAMSI web portal has an international demographic and is presented in both Spanish and English, with hundreds of thousands of hits and inquiries to the site annually.

The project acquired greater spatial control and context across the entire site that will augment the stratigraphic archaeological context generated by the Takalik Abaj National Project. This spatial recording will assist in the long-term management and continued documentation of the site. The generated datasets permit researchers, students, and others the ability to view and analyze the archaeological landscape at Takalik Abaj from a variety of perspectives and at multiple scales. In addition to the carved monuments, the project captured contextual features (e.g., architecture and terrain) whenever possible in order to provide a greater understanding of the object's relationship to the built and natural environment. Numerous cartographic compilations and projections have been made at local, site, and regional levels to more accurately appreciate the site's physical setting.

The perception and interpretation of archaeological materials is maximized if they are available for repeated examination over significant periods of time (Report page 2). This long-term accessibility permits the objects to be analyzed by multiple experts from various disciplines, and also allows new and developing analytical techniques to be employed over time. Preservation, on-going analysis, and sharing with other researchers are essential factors when unique or remote material or objects that contain particular symbolic significance, such as those at Takalik Abaj, are being examined. Therefore, the success of this project is in part measured by its longevity, usefulness, and effectiveness as a reference and resource tool for researchers. In order to promote and facilitate the project's success, the web content and databases are intended to be dynamic, living documents that can be updated, improved, and expanded as new discoveries are made and other pertinent material and information become available to investigators. This goal will only be achieved through the cooperation, sharing, and understanding of international archaeological professionals.

A transfer of technology (e.g., computer hardware, GPS mapping unit, software programs, and training) has been provided to the directors and staff of the Proyecto Nacional Takalik Abaj. This conveyance allows Guatemalan investigators to use the processed datasets to keep track of locations, conditional assessments, and other attribute information for on-going research and management at the site. The equipment and training allows a continuation of portions of the documentation process to endure after the current project has ended. Use of GPS and GIS for mapping and incorporating GPS location photos will be of great benefit to management, interpretation, and conservation and documentation needs for the site.

A major result of this project is the demonstration of trust, cooperation, and collaboration between international researchers and agencies. The directors and staff of the Takalik Abaj National Project and the University of South Florida's Alliance for Integrated Spatial Technologies have worked closely together to produce one of the most advanced and comprehensive programs of documentation for purposes of research in Mesoamerican Studies. The research capabilities at Takalik Abaj have been enhanced and expanded significantly, and all parties involved in the project have and will continue to benefit from the work that has been conducted.

We believe the initial stages of the project have been successful and have exceeded the original design. The true success of this project, however, will continue to be measured by its longevity, usefulness, and effectiveness as a dynamic reference and resource tool for researchers, and as an educational introduction to the archaeology of Takalik Abaj. We will continue to strive to make these objectives a reality, and continue to work with the Takalik Abaj National Project to ensure the success into the future.
View monument data for Takalik Abaj