efe-epaBy Manuel Lopez Palenque, Mexico

The British Museum and Google Arts and Culture on Tuesday announced the conclusion of a project to preserve and freely share with the public a hieroglyphic stairway from the seventh century at the Palenque archaeological site in Mexico's southern Chiapas state, part of a project to digitalize the Maya culture.

The project seeks to digitally preserve and make available to the public free of charge the world's largest archive of ancient Maya art and heritage.

This joint effort has resulted in the collecting of stories, artifacts and artworks and has facilitated the virtual exploration of influential sites from the Maya civilization that so far have not been accessible online.

The gigantic work of collecting some 800 photographs in 3D was begun in 2016 and two years later Mexico's National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH) agreed to allow the digitalization of epigraphic texts, as well as high-resolution scanning and collecting information and views of Maya sites.

In addition, 3D technology was used to create the virtual replica of the stairway, which as one of the central elements of the project seeks to reflect the enigmatic and fascinating legacy of the Maya culture in Mesoamerica.

The Maya culture is known for its architecture, its calendar and its hieroglyphic writing made up of more than 700 symbols, and all this was included in the project with the help of curators and digital experts, who prepared a photographic archive created by the founder of Maya archaeology, Alfred Maudslay, during his visit to the Palenque ruins in 1891.

INAH archaeologist Marsha Cuevas said it was the opportunity to reconstruct the iconographic relief using epigraphers - that is, people who can read the Maya glyphs - who used the original molds of the stone surfaces and the photos made by Maudslay, work that revealed and reproduced details that had escaped notice until now.

"So, we've concluded the archive consultation phase, and we've made corrections to the drawings, we've made a new photographic register and now the only thing left to do is the replica, done by Google, and that will serve to protect the original stairway hieroglyphs at the Palenque palace which have deteriorated over time," she told EFE.

The Advantages of the Project

Cuevas added that this cultural preservation project will enable the team to create a catalogue of the historical monuments at the Palenque site to make it easier for experts, the general public and students to explore Maya culture.

The collection of photos and molds compiled by the English explorer offers "a unique view" of the civilization that flourished between 250-900 AD in the area now occupied by Guatemala, southern Mexico, Honduras, Belize and El Salvador, Cuevas said.

Maudslay traveled a great deal throughout Central American during the 1880s and '90s and was the first visitor to scientifically document - using visual technology of the day - Maya cultural enclaves in the region.

This is the first time that Google Arts and Culture has taken up a challenge of this magnitude via a special project in coordination with the British Museum in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, countries that can now be explored with the help of the tech giant's online search engine.

Replicating the Stairway

As part of the project, Google Arts and Culture created a 3D life-size reproduction of the hieroglyphic stairway and sent it from the United Kingdom to the original site at the Palenque World Heritage Site, where the original work of art has eroded due to exposure to the environment.

The stairway was recreated as part of the Maudslay Google Maya project, the curator of the London museum, Claudia Zehrt, said, noting that the explorer's archive was instrumental in helping experts recreate up to 500 models of different monuments, adding that in November the original stairway will be covered with the replica to protect it from further degradation.

"We're printing it so that we can see all the details that one can no longer appreciate on the original stairway," she said.