|Latin America III 1997
|Computer Visualization System Literally PiecesTogether History of Pre-Inca Peruvian Civilization
|Dr. Alan Kalvin
Archaeologists recently discovered a disintegrated ceiling of a ceremonial temple built 1,800 years ago by the Moche, which contained drawings that are believed to hold the keys to understanding this major pre-Inca Peruvian culture that mysteriously disappeared in 800 A.D. Using a revolutionary computer visualization technology, ARMADO was designed to exploit and integrate the respective talents of human experts and computers, which literally pieces together the history of this civilization.
The Challenge Archaeologists face few tasks more daunting than restoring fragmented narrative paintings of a ceiling now broken into more than 5,000 pieces. Making the challenge greater is the fact that most pieces are no larger that a fist, while some are smaller than a thumbnail, and thousands more are missing. This ceiling is unique – it is the only one ever found that has pictures painted on it. The stories told by these painted images offer an unprecedented chance to unlock some of the secrets of the Moche. To recover the key, the archaeologists first needed to reassemble the ceiling from the broken fragments. Unfortunately, physical reassembly was impossible. The pieces are too numerous, too small and too fragile. The reconstruction project for restoring the fragments of the temple was initiated by Peruvian banker and philanthropist Dr. Guilleremo Wiese, head of-the Peruvian Augusto N. Wiese Foundation, who was aware of the risks associated with a manual reconstruction of the fragments. When Dr. Wiese read an advertisement promoting IBM’s involvement in reassembling broken hominid fossils in Morocco he knew he had found the solution to his problem. He asked for the assistance of IBM Peru to investigate computing techniques to reconstruct or visualize the fragments. “ARMADO” With physical restoration of the ceiling literally impossible, working with a team of scientists from IBM Peru and the Pontifical Catholic University in Peru, I developed ARMADO (which means “assemble” in Spanish), a computer-based reconstruction system that facilitates digital restoration. Based on the IBM Visualization Data Explorer tool kit, the system provided the archaeologists with a powerful mechanism to recover the messages carried in the ceiling’s iconography, grouping pieces based on criteria – including colour, texture and shape – and then configuring similar pieces on a computer monitor. Dr. Wiese also invited the university to help, so that local archaeologists associated with it could participate in the project. In October of 1995, an agreement was signed by IBM Peru, the Augusto N. Wiese Foundation and the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, with the purpose of developing a computer-assisted system to help the archaeologists. IBM Peru acted quickly and, in my capacity as a visual and geometric computing specialist, I was brought in to support the expertise of IBM Research. Despite the similarities to the Morocco case study, it soon became clear that no product on the market could address the Moche challenge. So, together with a team of scientists from IBM and the Pontifical Catholic University in Lima, I created a specially designed, revolutionary computer visualization technology, which became a major success in this project. How It Works The drawings contained on the original ceiling are believed to hold keys to understanding the Moche civilization, a major pre-Inca Peruvian culture that mysteriously disappeared in 800 A.D. Since 1990, the Augusto N. Wiese Foundation has been digging at the “El Brujo” (meaning “The Sorcerer”) Archaeological Complex on the coast of Peru, focusing on three ceremonial temples which are believed to have had significant importance to the Moche. With ARMADO, restorers can now digitally “handle” and manipulate all 500 recovered ceiling pieces easily and quickly. Because the ceiling fragments are too delicate to move from the site, they are digitized on site using a traditional colour document scanner. The scanned images are then shipped to the Pontifical Catholic University, where they are imported to an IBM RS/6000 workstation for the actual restoration using the ARMADO computer system. To complete the reconstruction, restorers identify pieces that belong together based on specific matching criteria. Once the pieces are grouped, they are manipulated on a computer monitor to properly align them. Matches are tested against a database containing the following identifying details: · Colour – the Moche used nine basic colours in their paintings. Each ceiling piece can have any combination of these colours. · Interpretations – these symbols are the possible interpretations of the fragments of figures on a piece (i.e., fox, crown, king, face, crab, snake, etc.). · Texture – each piece is classified as rough, smooth or both. · Repainted – multiple layers of paint indicate that some pieces were repainted before the ceiling collapsed. · Cane markings – the back side of each piece contains several parallel grooves made by the cane poles used in the construction of the ceiling. To create matches, restorers use the ARMADO graphical user interface to make requests such as, “find all rough-textured pieces that were repainted and have the colors red, blue and black as well as fragmentary details of a fox”. Users can then easily fine tune the matching results by modifying the selection criteria. Conclusion To date, six painted figures have been completely restored and they expect to complete the restoration within the next few months. ARMADO was designed to exploit and integrate the respective talents of human experts and computers. With this synergy of complementary skills, archaeologists are now achieving results that are far better than those that could be obtained by either man or machine alone.