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Mexicolore contributors Kate Jarvis and Claudia Zehrt

The Google Maya Project at the British Museum

Mexicolore have teamed up with two leading researchers/curators on the Maya at the British Museum, Kate Jarvis and Claudia Zehrt, to introduce into primary schools the Google Maya Project, a joint initiative between the BM and Google. Here, Kate and Claudia provide the background to what promises to be a revolutionary new resource in schools...

Alfred Maudslay in the field (Chichen Itzá) in 1889
Alfred Maudslay in the field (Chichen Itzá) in 1889 (Click on image to enlarge)

Summary: The British Museum has partnered with Google to use digital technologies to develop new ways to engage the world with Alfred Maudslay’s collections and explore what they reveal about the Ancient Maya.

Background: Alfred Percival Maudslay (1850-1931) travelled through Central America in the 1880s. He was captivated by the ruined cities of the ancient Maya which were just being re-discovered and became committed to preserving these archaeological wonders for future research. As such, he was one of the first to use proper archaeological recording techniques in this part of the world, and used state-of-the-art 19th century technology, such as dry-plate photography. He also brought tonnes of equipment into the jungle to produce moulds, and then casts, of the monuments that he encountered.

Maudslay’s photograph of Zoomorph B at Quirigua, alongside a 3D model created by the Google Maya Project
Maudslay’s photograph of Zoomorph B at Quirigua, alongside a 3D model created by the Google Maya Project (Click on image to enlarge)

The British Museum owns the most complete collection of these casts (over 400 of them), as well as many of his original plaster moulds and paper squeezes, his photographs (over 800 glass plates), and his field notebooks and sketches. These objects are a treasure trove for research of the ancient Maya, the history of discovery and exploration in Central America, and a fascinating story for the general public.
“It was the unexpected magnificence of the monuments which that day came into view that led me to devote so many years to securing copies of them, which, preserved in the museums of Europe and America, are likely to survive the originals.”
(Maudslay 1899, p. 149, talking about his 1882 visit to Quirigua)

Maudslay’s photograph taken from Temple IV at Tikal, alongside the same view today
Maudslay’s photograph taken from Temple IV at Tikal, alongside the same view today (Click on image to enlarge)

Outputs: The results of this project will be presented to a diverse audience around the world. Some core products, all of which will be free and open access, will include:
• A publicly accessible web platform which will feature high quality digital 3D models of all the casts and moulds from the Maudslay collection, as well as a digital catalogue of all of Maudslay’s photographs, notebooks, drawings, architectural sketches, and scanned publications
• A series ‘Google Expeditions’ in English and Spanish. These are Virtual Reality fieldtrips that can transport a classroom to almost anywhere in the world. The project launched its first expedition to Quirigua, in Guatemala, in January 2017.

The hi-tech kit ready to go out for its first school in London...
The hi-tech kit ready to go out for its first school in London... (Click on image to enlarge)

• An immersive 360° animation of a ‘zoomorph’ (stone monument shaped like several animals) from the site of Quirigua that introduces Maya writing, art style and belief systems
• A British Museum exhibition focusing on Alfred Maudslay and his work, which will showcase some of the exciting ways that digital technology can transport us back in time
• A dedicated space within the Google Cultural Institute on the web with videos, short online exhibits, links to the repositories and catalogue, and general information about the ancient Maya at the British Museum.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Jul 19th 2017

Learn more about Alfred Maudslay and the Maya

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