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Gigapan Image Documents Ancient Civilization

Huaca de la Luna is one of a series of temples built by the Moche or Mochica Culture (100 to 800 A.D.) inthe Moche valley on the Northern coast of Peru. Possibly built to honor Aiapaec, “God of the mountain”, Huaca de la Luna was at the center of the Moche culture and played a significant role as a center of power.

Although there is no traditional "writing" associated with the Moche culture, they expressed themselves in a complex language that used motifs from their world - animals, plants, and other characters - to tell their story and legitimize their power. The Moche leaders spent much time and effort in decorating all surfaces of Huaca de la Luna with depictions of their god, their origin, battles, and rituals, resulting in thousands of square feet of intricately designed murals that have been preserved over thousands of years.

In June 2013, Dr. Fabio Esteban Amador, senior program officer for the National Geographic / Waitt Grants program, captured an image of a very detailed three-dimensional mural within Huaca de la Luna using a Gigapan EPIC and a Sony Nex-5n with an 18-55mm lens. The incredibly well preserved mural gives researchers and archaeologists invaluable insight into the ancient culture.

“I have been fascinated with Moche iconography since my first visit to Peru more than 15 years ago, said Dr. Amador. “I chose to shoot this mural because it conveys a language that is yet to be deciphered and whose graphic elements capture ritual behavior in a vivid way, as well as all the characters that make up Moche world view, mythology and everyday life.”

A Glimpse of the Past

Located within a ceremonial enclosure in the central plaza of Huaca de la Luna, the mural is carved into the brown adobe brick wall, reaching 20 feet wide and 10 feet tall.

Although the study of the mural is still in process, according to Dr. Santiago Uceda, Director of the Moche Valley Project, various motifs can be seen that are prevalent in Moche iconography associated to warfare, ritual, human sacrifice as well as scenes of fishing, warriors at battle, captives, and goldsmiths in their workshop. In addition, the mural depicts many elements representing nature, including land animals, plants and ocean life.

“I think that this is the first time this important Chimu mural has been photographed in fine detail and therefore, it lends itself to the discovery of the many stylistic and symbolic elements that are contained in the mural,” said Dr. Amador. “By navigating through the Gigapan image, citizens will be able to discover the various elements that the ancient artists used, giving us a glimpse of the past.”

Gigapan Contributes to Preservation and Education Efforts

Dr. Amador chose to use Gigapan technology to shoot the mural as he wanted to capture its detail and design elements, without losing their placement in the larger context of the scene. Additionally, he hopes to motivate others to be inspired by the art of ancient cultures through this window into their world.

“One of my goals is to communicate science through articles written for National Geographic in the online publication Explorers Journal. When I came upon the mural I thought that I could not only use the image to convey to the world the art of the Chimu culture, but I also thought that the image itself is a record of a graphic language that is fragile. Therefore the state of preservation of the surface of the mural is of importance. The Gigapan EPIC robot was the ideal visualization tool that can be used to monitor the condition of the mural.”

Dr. Amador says the Gigapan EPIC was the perfect device since it was lightweight and could handle the small, yet powerful, Sony-Nex-5n camera “This combination is portable and ideal for an expedition to the Northern coastal desert of Peru. I think that explorers are making a big effort to travel light, and the Gigapan EPIC gives you the freedom without loosing the functionality and effectiveness. ”

He shares his gigapans, such as the mural, to let archaeologists, conservationists and others know that the technology can be used in different ways to capture complex and large scenes in high detail. To Dr. Amador, shooting a gigapan is not just a matter of pressing a button, but involves a creative process and personal experience, where the he considers light, focus, and distance, playing with the conditions and subject to provide a very personal perspective to the world.

He plans to incorporate Gigapan technology into his other work, including an upcoming workshop for archaeologists called Art of Communicating Science, on how to teach students to see, create and communicate the beauty of the past, not only to a specialized group, but to communities that can be empowered by understanding artifacts of their history to appreciate the heritage.

“I think that we, archaeologists, are very privileged in having access to beautiful ancient art,” said Dr. Amador. “Although our publications are detailed analysis of the content and interpretation, this information is not generally taken to the public realm. I believe that the ‘new’ archaeologist is capable of not only making the discovery, but also communicating to the world the beauty of the past, especially now that the perfect visualization tool can help us capture the image.”

To learn more about Huaca de la Luna visit: http://www.huacasdemoche.pe/