Tunnel Vision
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Tunnel Vision


Abstract: Archaeological tunneling is a standard excavation strategy in Mesoamerica. The ancient Maya built new structures atop older ones that were no longer deemed usable, whether for logistical or ideological reasons. This means that as archaeologists excavate horizontal tunnels into ancient Maya structures, they are essentially moving back in time. As earlier constructions are encountered, these tunnels may deviate in many directions in order to document architectural remains. The resultant excavations often become intricate labyrinths, extending dozens of meters. Traditional forms of archaeological documentation, such as photographs, plan views, and profile drawings, are limited in their ability to convey the complexity of tunnel excavations. Terrestrial Lidar (light detection and ranging) instruments are able to generate precise 3D models of tunnel excavations. This article presents the results of a model created with a Faro™ Focus 3D 120 Scanner of tunneling excavations at the site of El Zotz, Guatemala. The lidar data document the excavations inside a large mortuary pyramid, including intricately decorated architecture from an Early Classic (A.D. 300–600) platform buried within the present form of the structure. Increased collaboration between archaeologists and scholars with technical expertise maximizes the effectiveness of 3D models, as does presenting digital results in tandem with traditional forms of documentation.

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