March 8, 2008  David R. Hixson,  Satellites, Surveys and Simulations: Settlement Archaeology of Ancient Chunchucmil,  NW Yucatan, Mexico

            David Hixson highlighted recent advances in settlement pattern studies of NW Yucatan, in and around the classic period Maya site of Chunchucmil in his presentation.  Many different remote sensing platforms, such as multispectral LANDSAT imagery, AIRSAR and SRTM data, and aerial photography have been used to study the area of the North Western Yucatan, beginning with the Atlas program of the 1970s.  David has been working in a project directed by Dr. Bruce Dahlin, of Howard University, with the permission of Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) and funded by the National Science Foundation. In the work David Hixson has been pursuing in the areas surrounding Chunchucmil, imaging data sets have been compared to ground-reconnaissance and mapping operations conducted on previously undocumented sites and features in the seasonal western Maya wetlands. The lack of forest cover in this predominantly semi arid region has promoted  clearer aerial surveying. The combination of ground and aerial surveying has proven particularly efficacious in locating archaeological sites and testing climatological hypotheses in the more remote areas, as well as nearer to the urban center.  Chunchucmil seems to have been a profitable trading center, as it was located at the intersection of trading routes for salt, from the nearby coast, and exotic obsidian. It was also the first dry location inland of the regularly flooded areas that stretched from the city to the coast. The end of the presentation highlighted the utility of the latest inexpensive 3D reconstruction techniques to simulate the human spatial dimension of living in or traversing an ancient Maya center. David actually took advantage of gaming technology to reconstruct a dynamic three dimensional view of Chunchucmil, as it might well have appeared. The talk was enjoyed by all who attended, and, as usual, the questions and discussion continued long after the talk concluded!
            David R. Hixson is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Tulane University in New Orleans.  He began his work among the Maya during his teenage years, when he volunteered for an NGO that provided public services to remote Maya villages and United Nations Guatemalan refugee camps.  Soon after, he gained his B.A. in Anthropology from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and began working as a graphic designer for a local archaeology firm.  Together with his travels in Mexico, these combined interests led to his popular website, Mesoamerican Photo Archives, as well as a fascination with remote sensing and archaeological communications.  David was awarded a NASA fellowship for his dissertation work at the archaeological site of Chunchucmil, which focuses upon the use of satellite and airborne imagery to detect undiscovered archaeological sites in the western Maya wetlands of Yucatan.  Most recently, he organized a session at the SAA  regarding the use of 3D graphics programs in archaeological communications.

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