Abstract: Underwater Maya: 3D Imaging and 3D Printing the Ancient Maya Past


Preserved below the seafloor in a shallow coastal lagoon, are the only known remains of Classic Maya wooden buildings. The underwater sites were hidden from view until their 2004 discovery by archaeologist Heather McKillop and her team. In this talk, McKillop recounts the story of the discovery and mapping of over 100 underwater sites. The sites were part of a massive salt industry supplying the inland Maya with this basic biological necessity. The salt was made indoors by evaporating brine in pots over fires, storing fuel, salt, and even brine. In order to keep a permanent record of the wood and other salt waterlogged objects, the team used 3D imaging equipment at their jungle camp, and a 3D printer to make accurate replicas from digital files in the LSU DIVA (Digital Imaging and Visualization in Archaeology) Lab. With funding from an AIA Site Preservation Grant, 3D prints were featured in permanent exhibits in communities near the underwater Maya sites. The concept is for communities in southern Belize to protect the Underwater Maya sites by investing in them through sustainable archaeological tourism.



In Search of Maya Sea Traders. Texas A & M University Press, 2005 (a readable account of the story of doing archaeology on the coast of southern Belize, as well as the finds)

Salt: White Gold of the Ancient Maya. U Press of Florida (2008 paperback). (a technical book on the excavation and findings at the Paynes Creek salt works before the wooden architecture was discovered).

For further reading: “Sustainable Archaeological Tourism of the Underwater Maya Project by 3D Technology” Anthropology News, 2013 (H McKillop and E Sills), paper and available on line at


see video coverage and reports on the AIA Site Preservation Project at http://www.archaeological.org/projects/paynescreekbelize

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