Austrian Expertise Secures Endangered Peruvian Cultural Heritage with Digital Documentation Techniques

RIEGL’s Ultimate LiDARTM technology has again demonstrated its leadership ability in providing 3D data of exceptional quality for creating digital twins – in this case to deliver a sound basis for the virtual preservation of cultural heritage monuments for future generations. In their video, the LBI ArchPro (Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology) documents their work with the RIEGL VZ-400i 3D Terrestrial Laser Scanner in Peru, where they created a high-resolution digital 3D terrain model of the entire fortress of Kuelap.

Watch the LBI Arch PRO video here!

Kuelap is one of the largest ancient monuments in the Americas – and one of the most endangered. In spring 2022, the roughly 1,000-year-old fortification in northern Peru suffered massive damage from heavy rains in the Amazon. On the initiative of UNESCO and the Peruvian Ministry of Culture, the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology (LBI ArchPro), together with an international research consortium, documented this impressive cultural monument using the latest Austrian laser scanning technology and created a basis for future monitoring strategies and virtual preservation of the monument.

The fortress of Kuelap sits picturesquely 3000 m above sea level on a ridge of the Andes in northern Peru. It was the political center of the Chachapoya, a pre-Columbian culture that existed from about 900 to 1400 AD. In its heyday, the city originally covered 15 hectares and may have had as many as 300,000 inhabitants living in hundreds of round stone houses. The imposing enclosing wall was up to 20 meters high and was made of large limestone blocks. Kuelap has long been a major tourist attraction in Peru, and since 2019 it has been on the proposal list for inclusion as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the Chachapoyas sites in Peru’s Utcubamba Valley. In the spring of 2022, Kuelap suffered massive damage from heavy rains in the Amazon, which led to the collapse of parts of the fortress’s enclosing wall and its closure to the public. The acute threat to the cultural heritage prompted UNESCO and the Peruvian Ministry of Culture to immediately contact the LBI ArchPro research team, whose expertise in the efficient digital documentation of cultural monuments has already gained international renown through several archaeological prospection projects such as at Stonehenge (UK), Carnuntum (AT) and Birka (SWE).

At the end of September 2022, LBI ArchPro experts Matthias Kucera and Gerhard Stüttler traveled to Peru to record the site in three dimensions using various remote sensing methods during a two-week field mission. They met the challenge of very steep and difficult to access terrain with the combined use of terrestrial and airborne methods, which enabled the complete documentation of the fortress: terrestrial laser scanning (TLS), drone-based laser scanning (ALS) and image-based modeling. RIEGL Laser Measurement Systems supported the project with the latest Austrian technology in the form of a high-performance laser scanner (RIEGL VZ-400i). In the subsequent integrated analysis of the various data sets, the research team created a high-resolution digital 3D terrain model of the entire fortress of Kuelap, in which the more than 500 round stone houses, the enclosing wall and numerous other structures that are still visible on the surface were recorded with centimeter precision.

The investigations in Kuelap attracted a great deal of attention from national and international heritage management and conservation institutions. Peruvian Minister of Culture Betssy Betzabet Chavez Chino, as well as delegates from UNESCO and the World Monuments Fund (WMF), which placed Kuelap on its watch list in 2004 due to its continued deterioration, visited the site during LBI ArchPro’s research and personally saw for themselves that current actions are guiding further decisions on sustainable monitoring strategies for the endangered heritage site and providing a foundation for virtual conservation and accessibility for future generations.

Partner Consortium

LBI ArchPro, VIAS-Universität Wien, UNESCO, Peruvian Ministry of Culture (Betssy Betzabet Chávez Chino), Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP), Drexel University, Brown University, University of Wisconsin-Madison

PD Ao. Univ.-Prof. Mag. Dr. Wolfgang Neubauer kMI, FSA
LBI for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology
Hohe Warte 38
A-1190 Wien
mobile: +43 664 8174991
office: +43 1 360263001

VIAS-Vienna Institute for Archaeological Science
University of Vienna
Franz-Klein-Gasse 1/V
A-1190 Wien

About RIEGL:

RIEGL is an international leading provider of cutting-edge technology in airborne, mobile, terrestrial, industrial and unmanned laser scanning solutions for applications in surveying.

RIEGL has been producing LiDAR systems commercially for over 40 years and focuses on pulsed time-of-flight laser radar technology in multiple wavelengths.

RIEGL’s core Smart-Waveform technologies provide pure digital LiDAR signal processing, unique methodologies for resolving range ambiguities, multiple targets per laser shots, optimum distribution of measurements, calibrated amplitudes and reflectance estimates, as well as the seamless integration and calibration of systems.

RIEGL’s Ultimate LiDARTM 3D scanners offer a wide array of performance characteristics and serve as a platform for continuing Innovation in 3D for the LiDAR industry.

From the first inquiry, to purchase and integration of the system, as well as training and support, RIEGL maintains an outstanding history of reliability and support to their customers.

Worldwide sales, training, support and services are delivered from RIEGL’s headquarters in Austria and in the USA; main offices in, Japan, China, Australia, Canada and the UK; and a worldwide network of representatives.

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