Saturday, November 26, 2005

Geo 2

I gave Sarah the key to Clark's office this morning, and she apparently spent even longer than I did with that computer. The program still does not work. I'm going back to work on other projects

Monday, November 21, 2005

Web site

This isn’t perfectly organized, but here are some rough
notes on what I’m thinking about including in the web site we will eventually
make for the Akapana:


  • intro/background/history/significance of akapana and the
    people visiting it (text, photos)

  • talk specifically about details of the solstice, the
    alignment of akapana with the sun, any other natural phenomena

  • what akapana supposedly looked like back in the day

  • demonstration of the double walls and also demonstration
    that the walls have shifted slightly by nature (or maybe people)

  • 3D model

  • talk about the complicated waterways that are supposedly
    built into Akapana, and/or show what it would look like in the rain

  • “people" the akapana; this will require some research to
    figure out what the various hypotheses are as to what the Akapana was built

  • if we can, show the night sky over the Akapana and point
    out any celestial bodies (stars, planets, etc) that align with features. not
    sure if we can pull that off. leonardo benitez of penn talks about some of
    that stuff with relation to the semi-subteranean temple and the kalasasya


Also, below are some useful lecture notes about the Akapana
from the web site of archeologist Bruce Owen (
My understanding is that he’s never done work on the Akapana himself, so this is
aggregated information from secondary sources:


Akapana "pyramid" mound

  • around 200 m (about 650 feet) square

    • complex stepped shape in plan

  • almost 17 m (55 feet) high

  • stone-faced terraces with "H type" masonry

    • huge sandstone and andesite blocks, very well shaped

  • some tennoned heads have been found in the debris of the
    upper sides, but none in place

  • probably had a sunken court on top

    • although most of the evidence destroyed by massive
      looter's hole

  • and rooms around it with cut stone wall bases (possibly
    adobe upper walls), stone thresholds, and some flat, cut stone paving

    • some food garbage (potatoes quinao, maize), but no
      signs of cooking

    • lots of sherds of plain and decorated serving wares

    • residences of people who were supplied with prepared

    • places where people were served ritually charged

  • internal drains and openings in the terraces

    • built of large cut stones, wildly over-engineered

    • drained the top of the Akapana, probably the sunken

    • the drains run to cut-stone spouts in the terrace
      retaining walls, which would have gushed water onto the paved top surface of
      the terrace below

    • these have drains that in turn flow out from the next
      lower terrace face

    • so during a rain (or after, if the drains could be
      closed and opened by operators at the top), the Akapana mound would spout
      water from step to step

  • Stairways probably at various places

    • at the foot of one was found a "chachapuma" sculpture
      showing a feline holding a trophy head

    • and its pedestal that would have put it at eye level

    • probably one on either side of the bottom of the

  • dedicatory (?) offerings

    • "kero smash" at foot of one of the terraces

    • numerous dismembered adult male corpses

    • not clear whether these represent one big offering
      event, or a series of events repeated over time

  • Use of the Akapana

    • water/rain/fertility/agriculture ceremonies?

    • ceremonies involving trophy heads, human and animal

    • ritual feasting, drinking from decorated keros?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Water damage?

I recently read online from multiple sources that a Basque treasure hunter diverted a river into the Akapana in a failed attempt to unearth nonexistant buried treasure during the 1700s. However, those sources weren't particularly reliable, so I need to follow up on them. If true however, they would explain the slight vertical misalignment I observed in my 3D models since large amounts of water can easily shift earth.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Akapana & People

I’ve been focusing exclusively on the structure of the Akapana so far, but I’m beginning to look into how the Akapana was actually used by the original inhabitants of Tiwanaku, and what significance it had to their lives. I’ve found a bunch of references related to this that I’ll be looking into further later.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Peopling the past 2

I talked to Janet Monge about forensic facial modeling software, and she does not have it. She said she would try to obtain it for me, but was not sure that she would be able to. I also tried hanging around the digital media design labs to see what I could figure out about human body modeling and figure editing. I think it can be summed up in two words: ridiculously complicated. I need to learn how to program and understand this.

Overall, this project seems over our head for one semester with no prior experience with this type of media. I've been playing with Sketchup, and I can not even get that to work most of the time. I am more interested in the physical anthropology side of the class/project than the reconstruction and modeling of buildings, but I feel like the human modeling project keeps meeting with dead ends and not a lot of support from our professors. I am not even sure what they want us to do. Professor Badler keeps talking about pasting 2-dimensional human images onto polygons in Sketchup. I think I am being encouraged to sign up for other groups because this one is not going to go anywhere. Is this it?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Even more Sketchup

I’ve done some more work with Sketchup, and come to the conclusion that I really hate its “snap-to” feature. I can see how it’d be helpful for architects, but it really doesn’t make sense for working with archeological data. Some features of Sketchup are nice though. For example, I made some of my walls crash straight through parts of the excavated site. By turning on the "X-ray" view, everything becomes transparent and you can see the slight misalignment in the walls as my additions intersect parts of the original data. However, the misalignment is making continuing work very difficult. I think for the final project we’re going to have to create an idealized model of the Akapana rather than build on top of the topographical data.

Friday, November 11, 2005

More Sketchup

I returned to Sketchup tonight, using the correct file. The more data points a file has, the more strain it puts on the computer, so this smaller, simplified AutoCAD file was much easier to work with than the original, site-wide file. I’m pretty intent on confirming whether or not the walls of the Akapana align or not. A huge shortcoming of Sketchup is that its extremely difficult to use for work with rounded surfaces or natural materials like dirt and rock. It simply wasn’t created for that purpose. However, I hear it’s typical for archeologists to have to work with tools designed for other purposes, so I guess I’m just getting an accurate taste of the real world.

Anyway, the linearity of Sketchup can actually be used to its advantage when trying to determine if various components of the Akapana line up. There are 3-5 excavated sites on the structure (that I can see from the topographical data). By inserting rectangular-shaped blocks into the model, I was able to connect the first and second decorative wall layers between 2 or 3 excavated sites. I should mention that I’m not interested in the misalignment cited by prior archeologists. The discussion with Alexei made it clear that the double-wall theory explains that. I’m more interested in checking to see if the Akapana is level and if adjacent walls of the structure are where one would expect to find them. As it turns out, my model shows that there is about a 2 foot elevation difference between the two excavated walls I chose to examine. Unless the Akapana was intentionally slanted, I believe that shifting ground can be blamed; it has been thousands of years since the pyramid was built, after all.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Geography stuff

I just spent too many hours trying to make programs too large for an inept computer function. ArcCad is gigantic, and the computer in Professor Erickson's office is ancient. I don't think the system will support it. This is mildly frustrating. On a positive note, I did download GoogleEarth onto Professor Erickson's computer and play with that for a while. Eventually, I felt like I was just beating my head into a wall with that computer and the programs that wouldn't work, and I left him a note. Sarah is going to try later.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Double walls

I forgot to mention in my first post that I didn’t even know who Mollie was, but in any case I finally had a sit-down meeting today with my teammate Mollie and with Dr. Alexei Vranich, Director of the Tiwanaku Archaeological Project in Bolivia. There seems to be a lot of disagreement in the literature about particular features of the Akapana (which, as it turns out, is a temple, a pyramid, and a mound of dirt all in one), and I hoped meeting with Alexei would help clear up some of the confusion. I quickly realized that he was raising a lot more questions in my mind than he was answering. I obviously have some fun research excursions ahead of me.

One particularly interesting point that Alexei brought up was the perceived misalignment and variation in the walls of the Akapana. Some archeologists have alleged that the walls of the Akapana do not align in any obvious fashion, and that the stonework shows signs of hastiness in places, departing from its well-polished, perfectly-interlocked appearance in particular regions. However, Alexei pointed out that these assumptions came about as a result of an incorrect understanding of the structure. The Akapana has a stepped-pyramid structure. Alexei pointed out that the archeological evidence indicates that each of its walls are in fact doubled. That is, on any given layer of the Akapana, there are two walls running parallel to each other, one roughly-constructed wall for structural support, and the other more refined wall directly in front of it and obscuring it for aesthetic value. Aside from the archeological evidence, this also makes sense from an engineering perspective, so I’m pretty convinced. The fact that extremely experienced archeologists had apparently misinterpreted the site definitely goes to show that published research reports need to be taken with a grain of salt, and returning to the actual data to draw one’s own conclusions is important rather than exclusively relying on secondary data sources. Perhaps something to consider in our own model; I will be taking the topographical data pretty seriously.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Peopling the past

It has become clear to me lately why computer scientists and anthropologists may have avoided working together to create models and reconstructions in the past. We have very different mindsets.

Our class has been broken down into interest groups, with Sarah Peterson and I constituting the 'human modeling and reconstruction' group. We are both anthropology majors with no digital media design or modeling experience whatsoever. I feel that we have the interest, but not the experience, to make a project work, since we tried to enlist the help of one of the DMD students (Mark?) and he gave us a speech on how we should focus on modeling just one body. We could use measurements from our own bodies if we wanted. We should then focus on sticking a few different faces on this single form to represent native men, women, and children, and copy/paste these people a bunch of times in our model. Accuracy and individuality be damned, we just needed a crowd of people to people the past the class was creating.

This plan was not even remotely similar to the one that Sarah and I had discussed. We wanted to find the measurements (or averages of measurements) of skeletons in the museum that date to around the time and place of the Tiwanaku settlement. We would create prototypes of one man, one woman, one child, if we could manage. Then we could manipulate them slightly, since body types vary considerably. We agreed that it has looked rather odd when the people in the reconstructions we have seen have all shared the same body type, on different scales. Children, for example, do not share adult proportions.

We tried explaining our perspective to the computer specialist, but he shrugged us off and talked over us. Sarah told him that she would rather make one accurate person than a tribe of people with inaccurate proportions and facial features. He seemed to have trouble with this, but it turned out that he was not actually going to help us anyhow. He informed us that he was more interested in working with another group. After he had had left the meeting, Sarah looked at me and asked,

"Did you agree with a single thing he said?"

"No," I responded, "it's a different approach. We don't have to take it if we don't want to." I personally was not thrilled with the idea of basing ancient Inca/Aymara people on my Scandinavian features. It did not seem accurate or ethical. People seeing our reconstruction should see individuals similar to the ones who lived in Tiwanaku.