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Virtual Reality in Higher Education: Using VR to Understand and Explore Ancient Maya Metaphysics

June 25, 2018

Anthropologically Critiquing Reality: Virtual Realities and Actual Realities

January 24, 2018

Seasonal Rhythms and Quotidian Duties: Insights into the Impact of Environment on Structuring Daily Life Using El Eden Wetland, Quintana Roo, Mexico a...

January 17, 2017

Teaching a Digital Anthropology

January 4, 2017

Digital heritage and Archaeology

January 4, 2017

Cerro Maya 3d (Cerros), Belize

January 3, 2017

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Digital heritage and Archaeology

January 4, 2017

Designed for both humanities research and advanced pedagogical techniques, my research and teaching methods employ GIS, 3D interactive reconstructions, digital video editing and virtual reality headsets in tandem with contemporary theoretical approaches to increase and expand student engagement while offering a digital platform for humanities research.

 

Research

My current research trajectory started in 2008, when I began experimentally applying 3D computer modeling technologies to analyze data gathered from the Preclassic Maya site called T’isil located Quintana Roo, Mexico. This research is documented in my MA thesis entitled “Three Dimensional Analysis and the Recreation of a Preclassic T’isil: Experiential Use of three dimensions in Maya Archaeology.” Using view shed analysis in tandem with real-time interactive movement controls, my analysis probed hundreds of virtual architectural spaces to explore the relationship between architecture and social organization. 

 

As a doctoral student at the UF, I continued my inter-disciplinary Mesoamerican research by studying the material practices, identities, and social orders present at the Preclassic Maya site of Cerro Maya in Belize. During this time, I used the early developer version of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset to create a second 3D Maya site that was both interactive and immersive, allowing the user to control the movement through the site’s architecture. This program also enhanced my understanding of the positioning of cache deposits as Cerro Maya, the focus of my dissertation project. I used artifacts, maps, and excavation data from the comprehensive Cerro Maya archaeological collection now housed in the Florida Museum of Natural History. The collection includes: a collection of caching assemblages, architectural maps, notes and measurements, and a vast collection of carbon samples that had never been dated. 

 

Wenner Gren Grant 

A Wenner-Gren Foundation’s dissertation improvement-grant funded the final stages of my research and allowed me to acquire viable radiocarbon dates for 13 caches. The resulting dates were statistically reduced using Bayesian modeling techniques. These dates prove that Cerro Maya’ rise from a small coastal fishing village to a monumental power was dramatically shorter than previously argued. My results indicate that the majority of Cerro Maya Preclassic occupation occurred within a 150-year time span in the late Preclassic.  The accurate dates produced during the Bayesian process allowed me to create an accurate virtual reality reconstruction of the ancient site of Cerro Maya that incorporated transformations of the built environment over time.

 

Virtual reality was particularly useful for tracking changes in architecture, the built and unbuilt landscape, and recurring ritual practices like Maya caching.

 

In sum, my dissertation, entitled “Analysis of Ancient Maya Caching Events at Cerros Maya (Cerros) Belize: Assemblages of Actor-Networks, Temporalities, and Social Fields in the Late Preclassic Period,” incorporates virtual reality analytical methods, Bayesian statistical modeling methods, and network analysis to analyze ritual caching practices. These new methods allowed me to chart, in great detail, the emergence of local history, political complexity and social subjectivities at Cerro Maya. The historical processes described in this dissertation provide insights into the emergence of complex societies, while offering new methods and approaches that can be useful for other social sciences as well.

 

Post Doctoral Research

My post-doctoral research will help refine the use of virtual reality for public engagement, humanities research, and interactive humanities pedagogical approaches.  I am developing a set of online guides and a series of workshops designed to expand the use of virtual reality in humanities disciplines. The guides and workshops will be important catalysts for researchers in the early stages of adopting the complex virtual reality hardware and software tools. The online guides will include three main parts, a guiding start-up section about hardware and software tools, a section focusing on public engagement and teaching, and a section detailing the uses of virtual reality for humanities research and analyses. The guides will include virtual reality demos that illustrate the most important concepts found in each section. Furthermore, the online guides will include information and insights from a series of collaborative workshops that I will organize and lead. The focus of these workshops will be collaboration and hands-on learning for scholars, educators, and students. These workshops will be organized with the goal of creating a multidisciplinary collaborative research initiative focusing on the uses virtual reality in humanities disciplines. In this developing program, I plan to collaborate with academic institutions to invite leaders within the virtual reality field from both humanities and hard science fields to participate in projects designed to aid humanities-related research.  

 

 

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