Next Talk

6 March 2024

Dr. Ryan Kastner                                       

Professor, Computer Science & Engineering, Jacobs School of Engineering, University of California, San Diego (UCSD)

Source: Ryan Kastner

Topic: Creating a Digital Twin of the El Zotz Mayan Archaeological Site

Abstract: The El Zotz Archaeological Project aimed to understand how an ancient dynasty established itself as a seat of power within close proximity to the Tikal and other ancient Maya city-states. Archaeologists explored that site for over a decade, focusing on two of the largest temples, including El Diablo, the home of one of the Top Archaeological Discoveries from National Geographic in 2010.

To uncover the past, Maya archaeologists carefully tunneled into the El Diablo temples, slowly and meticulously uncovering evidence of its use and purpose as they laboriously pick-axed through the dense jungle that has long overgrown these structures and then eventually into centuries-old limestone structures, built by the Maya over decades. As the archaeologists tunnel further, they uncovered past mysteries — masks, paintings, sacrifice sites, royal tombs, and other aspects of the temple. The tunnel systems have grown over the years, fueled by archeological hypotheses about the purpose of the structure with the hopes of finding the next major clue that will unlock the history and mysteries of the temple and the site. The excavations resulted in hundreds of meters of complex tunnels — full of bats, snakes, rats, and spiders – alongside the ancient artifacts. 

To document these archeological finds, UCSD Engineers for Exploration undertook in a multiyear effort to create a digital twin of the site. The end goal was a large-scale 3D model of the site, its tunnels, and its artifacts. We used cutting-edge technologies, including lidar, stereo cameras, and drones. The drones captured the site at a large scale, while lidar and 3D cameras were painstakingly used to digitally recreate the tunnels and their artifacts at millimeter-scale resolutions. 

The talk will describe these efforts, provide some intuition into the technologies, and demonstrate the 3D models that allow the world to see this important Maya site without enduring a day-long trek into the jungle on muddy, dirt roads that take hours to go kilometers. Since the site is no longer actively maintained and often looted, these tunnels have been backfilled, hiding all of these discoveries again. Thus, these 3D models provide the best way for present and future archaeologists to study and understand this ancient city.

Inside El Zotz. Source: Ryan Kastner

Bio: Dr. Kastner is a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at UCSD. He received a PhD in Computer Science (2002) at UCLA, a Masters degree in engineering (2000) and Bachelor degrees (BS) in both Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering (1999) from Northwestern University. He spent the first five years after his PhD as a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has published over 200 technical articles and has authored four books.

Professor Kastner leads the Kastner Research Group whose current interests largely fall into three areas: hardware acceleration, hardware security, and remote sensing. He is the co-director of the Wireless Embedded Systems Graduate Program — a specialized Masters degree targeting individuals working in local industries. He also co-directs the UCSD Engineers for Exploration (E4E) Program, which pairs undergraduates in research experiences with domain scientists in archaeology, conservation, and cultural heritage

Venue: Southwestern Yacht Club, 2702 Quanthrough Street, San Diego, CA 92106

Time: Doors to the meeting room open at 11:00 am.

Luncheon meeting at Southwestern Yacht Club