Campus: CSU, Hayward -- January 31, 2000

Team Creates Machu Picchu Virtual Tour

When Yale University's natural history museum opens its Machu Picchu exhibit next year, visitors will explore the ruins of the 15th century city using technology provided by California State University, Hayward.

The archeological exhibition at Yale's Peabody Natural History Museum will include a virtual reality tour of the entire city of Machu Picchu and the adjacent Inca Trail. The tour is the work of Cal State Hayward archaeology Professor George Miller, a team of CSUH Media Center staff, and graduate students.

Elements of the exhibit will be displayed in the future in the C. E. Smith Museum of Anthropology at Cal State Hayward, according to Miller.

"Whatever form our Cal State Hayward exhibition takes, it's a guarantee that the visitor will have the chance to take a virtual tour of one of the world's most mysterious and majestic sites," Miller said.

Miller and Terry Smith, photographer and coordinator of the New Media Services laboratory at Cal State Hayward, traveled to Peru, most recently in October, to take 360-degree, digital photographs of the city's terraced mountainside, granite walls and steps, buildings, and caves.

Others working on the project were Michael Bortner, a Cal State Hayward master's degree candidate, and three recent Yale archeology graduates, Nick Kouchoukos and Regan Huff, who now teach at the University of Alabama, and Ana Maria Pavez from Chile.

The ruins of Machu Picchu were discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, a Yale University professor (1907-25) who later became Connecticut's governor (1925) and U.S. Senator (1925-33). The Peabody Museum is preparing an exhibit about Bingham's discovery of the Incan city to coincide with the university's 300th anniversary.

Miller first learned of the upcoming Machu Picchu exhibit in 1994, when he was a visiting professor at Yale, teaching archaeology and conducting research on animal bones found in Machu Picchu tombs.

He approached Yale colleague Richard Burger, director of the Peabody and a former CSUH lecturer (1979). Miller suggested the display could be enhanced by a computerized component that would educate museum visitors about specific features of Machu Picchu and allow them "to explore and discover the natural, maze-like structure of the site" using panoramic virtual reality photography.

Miller proposed augmenting the static displays in cases and on the museum walls with computer stations that would provide multiple, navigable, 360-degree views of the pre-Columbian city.

Museum visitors will use a computer mouse to select a location on the Machu Picchu map. When the panoramic image appears on the screen, viewers will be able to control the image to look toward the sky, at the ground, and in a full rotation around the original point. They can also navigate from one point to the next.

On their last trip to Machu Picchu Miller and his teammates took more than 250 panoramic images, using two Olympus panoramic digital cameras with wide-angle lenses and special virtual reality equipment. During a previous trip to the city in 1996, Miller shot 40 panoramas using traditional film photography.

"Shooting digitally allowed us to download the images a couple of times a day to the two laptops we had with us, review the images, and reshoot where needed," Miller said. "We set up a kind of field laboratory in the Machu Picchu Hotel bar. It was a great way to do archaeology."

Since their return from Peru, Miller and Smith have been working in the CSUH New Media laboratory, electronically "stitching together" more than 5000 images to create the panoramas.

Eventually they will add virtual reality images of some 100 artifacts they photographed at the Peabody Museum in 1997 and the ambient sounds they recorded at Machu Picchu in October. The recordings include such sounds as the flow of water through the 16 ceremonial fountains, the roar of the Urubamba River 2,000 feet below the city ruins, the Quechua (Inca) language being spoken, and footsteps on the 3,000 steps lining the five-square-mile site.

Yale and Cal State Hayward have collaborated on the digital project, with Hayward providing the expertise, Miller said.

"It was an honor to teach at Yale, but equally thrilling has been the opportunity to share with them the technological strength that Cal State Hayward, with its Media and Technology lab and multimedia master's program, is uniquely positioned to provide," he said.

Another facet of Miller's digital work is attracting notice at Yale. During his second visiting professorship in 1997, he electronically scanned nearly 1,000 black and white photographs of Machu Picchu that Bingham took in 1911, 1912 and 1915.

"Bingham was quite a good photographer for that era," Miller said, "and he often took multiple shots from a single point allowing him to physically paste together panoramas."

By using the Apple Computer's Quicktime Virtual Reality technology to reprocess Bingham's original photographs, Miller has created a virtual time machine and made it possible to view some of Bingham's old static photos in a dynamic, navigable form, to focus in on small details and to enlarge them for closer inspection.

The initial, major Machu Picchu exhibition will be in Yale's Peabody Museum and four other venues around the country, "with a special virtual version appearing in Cal State Hayward's C. E. Smith Museum of Anthropology," said Miller, director of the Smith Museum.

Miller is hoping that he and Amy Rodman, a member of the Cal State Hayward art faculty and an Andean scholar, will be able to collaborate on an exhibit entitled "The Incas and Their Ancestors" for the C. E. Smith Museum in fall 2001 or winter 2002.

A preview of the upcoming Machu Picchu exhibition, including panoramic photographs, appears on the Web site

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