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Feb 28, 2001

New technology builds virtual museum of Belize

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Bureaucratic delays have set back the conversion of the old Belize City prison into the Museum of Belize, but fortunately the lack of progress in construction has not delayed the museum’s real purpose: the advancement of knowledge. News 5′s Stewart Krohn reports on one of the best kept secrets in Belmopan.

Stewart Krohn, Reporting

Forget everything you ever learned about archaeology: the digging… the dust… the dirt. These days Indiana Jones has traded in his hat and bullwhip… for a laser and laptop. And strange as it may seem, Belize is at the forefront of archaeology’s technological revolution.

Richard Leventhal, Archaeologist, UCLA

“What we’re doing is we’re using the most up to date computer technology to document each of these objects.

These objects include several hundred of the nation’s most priceless ancient Mayan artifacts. And while many of them will wind up on display in the museum now being created at the old Belize City prison, they will be shown to a far larger audience in a virtual museum: a world available on the internet and CD ROM that will allow visitors to do things that in the real world would land them in jail.

Richard Leventhal

“We are photographing every object, around the completed perimeter of the object, so that we are able to put together each of these photographs and get a complete look of what’s around. We are able to put it on the screen and completely look at the object at all its angles.”

The result is that people in Belize, and anywhere else in the world, will be able to handle the Jade Head as if it was a head of cabbage. Dr. Richard Leventhal, Director of the Cotsen Institute at the University of California, is the driving force behind the project.

Richard Leventhal

“We have created the first digital archaeology lab that exists at UCLA. There is no other in the United States, in fact I don’t think there is any other similar laboratory in any other part of the world. So in creating this digital archaeology lab, we have begun to examine new ways that we can present archaeological information. And because of my involvement in Belize, I thought we should try out a lot of these new approaches here in Belize and make Belize the centre for this new technology and really the showpiece of what can happen in the future.”

And that future is here today… at the museum storage building in Belmopan, where a team headed by Dr. Louise Krasniewicz is doing the painstaking work that will one day soon open Belize’s treasures to the world.

Louise Krasniewicz, Archaeologist, UCLA

“What’s so exciting about the technology we are using is that it may look very complicated, but it’s actually very simple technology. Everything we do is designed to be run on a desktop computer, not some fancy machine that only a university has, but things that every kid eventually will have in their classroom.”

What every kid doesn’t have is a state of the art 3D laser imaging device, a technology so new that its use in Belize is part of a test by the manufacturers.

Louise Krasniewicz

“Nothing has been done at this scale, nothing across the world. So Belize is in the forefront of using this technology to record their collection and then make it available to both scholars and the general public.”

And it’s not just the objects that will be available. The information that surrounds them will also be only a mouse click away.

Richard Leventhal

“The critical part of each object is their archaeological context. What we want to do is put each object back into its context. Where did it come from? The Jade Head is a good example, it came from a tomb at Altun Ha. There were many, many objects in that tomb and what we want to do is look at the Jade Head in the context that I comes from so it tells us much more about the object. So that what we do is to create that archaeological context, which adds so much information and meaning to each of the object that it then provides us with a complete picture of what was going on, whether it be at Altun Ha, Xunantunich, Caracol, Lamanai or wherever.”

3D tours of Belize’s major Maya sites will also be included… which raises the question of whether people will really need to come visit the real thing. Archaeologist John Morris says that availability of information will in fact create visitor interests… and also better educate our own children.

John Morris, Archaeologist, Museum of Belize

“Essentially what this will do for us is that when it goes on the CD ROM or on the web, it will tell the world what we in Belize have with regards to the ancient Maya civilization. And today, we have access to the material, we keep the material, we keep the information and it’s there accessible to Belizeans. And now doing this on CD ROM will provide information on computers for the high schools and elementary schools and tertiary level schools in Belize.”

So about a year from now teachers from Orange Walk to Ohio will have the enviable choice of planning a field trip to Belize City or taking a virtual trip online. Stewart Krohn for News 5.

The Cotsen Institute at UCLA is financing the project, but future revenues should be generated by sale of CD ROMs and related products. The Government of Belize is the owner of all knowledge generated by the undertaking.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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