January 28 AIA Lecture - "Virtual Reality in Archaeology: Explorations of Ancient Maya Landscapes”
Program begins at 2 pm in Joslyn's Abbott Lecture Hall

The Omaha-Lincoln Society of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), in partnership with the Department of Fine & Performing Arts at Creighton University, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Joslyn Art Museum continues its exceptional programming with another free public lecture.



"Virtual Reality in Archaeology: Explorations of Ancient Maya Landscapes” presented by Heather Richards-Rissetto, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Faculty Fellow, Center for Digital Research in the Humanities (CDRH), University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Ancient Maya architecture worked in concert with the natural landscape to convey messages of political power, social differences, and cosmological beliefs. Temples, ball courts, palaces, and plazas offered sights and sounds to create synesthetic experiences that influenced daily life and shaped society. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) offer tools and methods to derive quantified and geovisualized data to investigate ancient Maya cities. However, GIS alone, leaves out human perception. 3D modeling and visualization allow us to introduce aesthetic elements such as design and color alongside mass and scale in explorations of archaeological landscapes. Recent advances in immersive Virtual Reality (VR) allow us to bring these GIS and 3D data into VR environments for cross-disciplinary humanistic and scientific analysis. In this talk, I discuss how the MayaCityBuilder Project is using GIS and 3D data in multiple platforms to explore sight and sound in eighth century Copan—today a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Honduras.


Heather Richards-Rissetto is an archaeologist specializing in the ancient Maya of Central America. She is Assistant Professor in Anthropology and a Faculty Fellow in the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities. She uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and 3D visualization to investigate how the accessibility and visibility of architecture communicated information and structured social experience in past societies. Her current interests involve using gesture-based and immersive technologies such as Microsoft Kinect, Leap Motion, and Oculus Rift for digital humanities research. Since 2005, she has been working at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Copan, Honduras. Her interests also include using digital technology to enrich archaeological education and promote cultural heritage. She has also been involved in fieldwork at archaeological sites in Belize, Peru, Spain, and the U.S. Southwest. Her publications include articles on digital heritage, archaeological GIS, 3D WebGIS, and ancient landscape experience.

Heather is the Director of the MayaCityBuilder Project that is creating a procedural modeling kit and repository that stores a digital lexicon of 2D and 3D data for ancient Maya architecture and plants to allow users to create 3D visualizations in georeferenced cityscapes. She is also the GIS Director of the MayaArch3D Project— an international, interdisciplinary project founded to explore the possibilities of 3D digital tools and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for research on ancient Maya architecture and landscapes. The MayaArch3D Project has received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, UNESCO, Gerta Henkel Foundation, National Science Foundation, and the German Ministry of Education and Research. 

Richards-Rissetto holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of New Mexico (2010).



Founded in 1879, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) was chartered by the United States Congress in 1906, in recognition of its role in the development and passage of the Antiquities Act, which Theodore Roosevelt signed into law that year. Today, the AIA remains committed to preserving the world's archaeological resources and cultural heritage for the benefit of people in the present and in the future. The Lincoln-Omaha Society of the Archaeological Institute of America, chartered in 1995, provides the residents of Nebraska and western Iowa opportunities to attend lectures by prominent international, national, and local archaeologists.