the Maya Skies Data Archive: builds on the field work completed for Tales of the Maya Skies, a full-dome planetarium production that tells the story of ancient Maya cosmology.  For the first time at any major Maya archaeological site, accurate 3D scan documentation was completed, both for the site and many of its most important museum objects.  Funded by the National Science Foundation and Instituto Politécnico Nacional, field work for Maya Skies yielded highly precise digital visualizations of structures and artifacts from Chichén Itzá. The interdisciplinary project  yielded new research findings in  the fields of archaeology, art history and computer vision.  Beyond site documentation, the project has also yielded the first accurate views of what Chichen Itza looked like in Antiquity.


You can visit the site with this link:  The Maya Skies Archive

Open Source Resources for Researchers and Full Dome Producers

All of the data from the film is available for public access at  The site also provides extensive material (PDF documents and video) built to show different applications for the data.  In addition to this dissemination material, open source tools are included in the release.  The release includes web tools to allow humanities researchers to view and discuss their own data, and a suite of tools that enable science centers to create and share their own full dome films.  These tools include:

  • The Visual Discussion: A web app used to navigate, download and discuss data from Chichén-Itzá, Yucatán, Mexico.  Search results are accompanied by an interactive 3D model, which users use to retrieve geo-referenced images and data. Users can also add their own photos, text and data to the archive.
  • Show Builder: This web and desktop tool set allows  distributed full dome teams to create work in different locations, then automatically compiles these separate digital sequences into a complete show for playback on the web.
  • Production Flow is an interactive full dome primer designed for beginning dome producers.  Based on user input, the web app charts requirements for a new production and illustrates aspects of production for existing full dome films. In both cases, the app provides definitions for the roles and components involved.
  • The Maya Skies Forum offers a window on full dome production and a place to discuss the ongoing uses of the Maya Skies archive.  The ‘Maya Skies Data Archive’ board hosts an ongoing discussion of the data collected in the Maya Skies Archive and provides links to 3D data.  Ten other boards used during the production of Tales of the Maya Skies are accessible for teaching and reference.
  • Full dome camera tools assist dome camera layout.  Our full dome camera rig includes a virtual dome color-coded by dome region and camera controls for common full dome camera needs.  The related Full Dome panorama previsualization tool provides an interface for 'auditioning' panoramas on a virtual hemispheric dome.
  • DomeCorrect: A simple tool to develop color correction for the hue and gamma values observed in a specific full dome theater.

Additional tools released on the site include plug-ins for several CGI rendering software packages (Radiance, Sunflow, and Fryrender) and forums to discuss the ongoing uses of the data archive.

Tales of the Maya Skies

Tales of the Maya Skies was conceived by Alexandra Hall, former Executive Director of Chabot Space & Science Center, during a visit to Chichén Itzá in 2004. Ms. Hall was struck by the beauty and astronomical alignments of the architecture at Chichén Itzá, and upon her return to the Science Center determined to create a digital dome show showcasing the astronomical achievements of the Maya. Convinced that a full dome planetarium show on the Maya would provide a rich educational experience for visitors, she applied for and received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to produce the show and embark on research to determine the affect of such a show on learning.

INSIGHT led the digital documentation and reconstruction effort.  On-site digital scanning at Chichen Itza was provided by INSIGHT and CyArk, a non-profit group and INSIGHT partner based in Oakland, California.  Both the documentation and reconstruction work was included in Chabot Space and Science Center's full dome film Tales of the Maya Skies, now playing in planetarium-style 'full dome' theaters around the world.

For a short film trailer, please see:  Tales of the Maya Skies

Data-gathering expeditions to Chichén Itzá, for Tales of the Maya Skies, begin in 2006, initially funded by the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, California.  In the above photograph, Maya Skies Director John Weiley and archaeologist Donald Hart are seen climbing El Osario, one of the structures seen in the film.  Below, John climbs a ladder to join ArtsLAB director David Beining atop the Caracol.  The Caracol is thought by many to be an ancient observatory.

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News & Events

The Smithsonian Museum's work in 3D Digitization. INSIGHT Board member Kelly Roberson brought the Smithsonian's recent 3D work to our attention, including publicly accessible data for 3D printing similar to INSIGHT's Maya Skies Archive (  To read more about the Smithsonian's plans, please see this news story:


Current Questions in Authenticity. This day-long symposium at UC Berkeley will be held February 3, 2012, as is open to the public.  Several people on the INSIGHT team will be participating.  The event is free and open to the public; RSVP to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


INSIGHT's Kevin Cain is serving on the International Scientific Committee for VAST 2011. The International Symposium of Virtual Reality, Archaeology and Culture Heritage (VAST) conference will be held October 18-21, 2011, in Prato, Tuscany, Italy.  Kevin previously co-chaired VAST 2004, gave the keynote for VAST 2003 and has presented papers in other years.

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