Virtual Reality

The Monte Albán Virtual Reality Laboratory (MAVRL) is a virtual reality project that falls under the umbrella of the Monte Albán Digital Archaeology Project. MAVRL allows users to experience, explore, and learn about the beauty and monumentality of Monte Albán, the famous UNESCO World Heritage Site in Oaxaca, Mexico. The entirely immersive 3D environment of the Prehispanic capital brings an accurate representation of the archaeological site into virtual space.

In the summer of 2017, a DJI Phantom 4 Pro+ drone was used to take over 15,000 photos of the Main Plaza of Monte Albán. These photos were processed using Agisoft PhotoScan Professional software to digitally reconstruct the Main Plaza and surrounding Architecture producing a photorealistic 3D representation, and other highly accurate maps for archaeological study. A year later, Dr. Alex Elvis Badillo and Dr. Marc N. Levine developed the project MARVL to push the digital data captured in 2017 further beyond mere maps and 3D renderings.

MAVRL – the vision

Design VR environments where a user can

go to Monte Albán and…

…experience what it is like to be at the site.

…explore and interact with the main plaza and buildings.

…test hypotheses using virtual tools.

With this guiding vision, VR environments created through this project will allow the user to delve into topics such as…

  • Iconographic studies
  • Archaeo-astronomy
  • Geophysical exploration
  • Digital restoration/reconstruction
  • …and many more!

As a pilot study, Badillo and Levine decided to focus on Building J located on the south side of the Main Plaza at Monte Albán. The goal was to create a stand-alone VR environment, centered on Building J where the user can take a closer look at one of Monte Albán’s most interesting structures. The façade of Building J features a series of carved stones with diverse glyphs. Researchers still debate the interpretation of these stones, and they remain one of the biggest mysteries of Monte Albán. MAVRL’s Building J VR environment provides a 3D audio/visual tour of the unique building and carved stones, giving users an immersive and hands-on experience to learn and explore one of the most fascinating archaeological sites in all of Mesoamerica.

Making the Building J VR environment was a collaborative effort. Dr. Javier Urcid, archaeologist and specialist in Zapotec iconography, and Matthew Brennan, archaeologist and specialist in VR applications for archaeology, were brought in for their expertise. Currently, graduate student Ashley Baysinger of Indiana State University, is helping to prepare a series of surveys to help in the assessment of the Building J VR environment as an effective tool for education.

Check out the videos below!

Building J 360 video


Developing MARVL’s Building J environment


MAVRL tutorial