Updated July. 1, 2018

The Honduras 2011 expedition was sponsored by: National Geographic, University of Kentucky Center for Visualization and Virtual Environments and the Blazie Professorship.

Primary Investigator: Chris Begley from Transylvania University, Lexington, Kentucky.

Co-Investigators: L. G. Hassebrook of the University of Kentucky (3D researcher), Eli Crane (3D engineer), Josh Howard (photographer), Mikhail De Long (hydrology engineer), Sam (from Calgary) (geologist).

Our goal was to test new remote 3-D scanner technology and capture as many petroglyphs, artifacts or other items in 3D, as we could within the time frame.



The first and most famous “dragon” petroglyph marking the boundary of the “pre-Mayan” region in the Reserva Biologica Rio Platano.


The expedition involved several modes of travel from San Pedro Sula to a petroglyph rich sandbar in the Rio Platano.

The 3D component of the expedition began July 18, 2011 with the team arriving in San Pedro Sula. Eli, Mickhail, Sam and myself arrived July 18. Chris, Josh and another team member (who would not attend the 3D expedition) had already been on a hiking expedition into the jungle the prior week. There were several legs of the journey that involved different types of transportation technology. From San Pedro Sula to non-paved roads past La Ceiba, the transportation was conventional SUV and buses. In Honduras, the buses are what we would call “school buses”. When the payment ended the transportation became both unconventional and simpler in technology as we approached the rain forest camps in the Rio Platano. The first leg of the non-paved road travel is accomplished with the help of “expeditors” who drive pickup trucks with a back seat as well as a board to sit on, in the cargo area outside. The expeditors travel across two types of terrain, dirt roads through palm oil plantations and sandy beaches along the coastline. The expeditors use ferries to get their vehicles across river outlets. My best recollection is the ride is an exciting 8 hours. They drive as fast as they think is safe. At the end of the expeditors “road” we took a large motorized boat hollowed out of a large tree. The boat took us across a bay/lagoon area to a small village north of Laguna Ebano. At this point in the trip, the villages only have electricity part of the day. There is running water but not for drinking and no air-conditioning. The next day we rode the motorized canoes across Laguna Ebano, through a canal system in the jungle and up river in the Rio Platano to Los Maria. The motorized canoe ride is probably the most relaxing of the transportation types. Las Maria was a small village in the jungle with no electricity or running water. Never the less, it was very comfortable and I really enjoyed staying there. The next day, July 21, we left in small man powered canoes up river to our first jungle camp. We had four canoes, 12 villagers and our team of 6. We were definitely in the rain forest at this point and the skills of the villagers really became apparent. The canoes were hollowed out logs that rode a few inches above the water. Motors could not be used because we were going up a very shallow river with rapids. Two villagers would stand on the front end of the canoe with long poles with which they could pull the canoe up stream and across the rapids. One villager would be in the back to paddle and steer the canoe. Each of pullers had several poles and a machete with which they would use to sharpen their poles so they could stick better into the river bottom. The pullers never sat down and the trip was around 8 hours with only one stop where the team had to hike through the jungle while the villagers got the canoes and supplies through the worst part of the rapids. In late afternoon/early evening, we arrived at the first and largest petroglyph, sometimes referred to as the dragon. The villagers used their machetes to hack out a really nice camp area including bathrooms, for us, in a matter of minutes. They then took us out into the river to the dragon petroglyph and we made our first attempts at scanning in the trip.

The next day, July 22, we got back in the canoes and traveled 3 or 4 hours to a sand bar loaded with petroglyphs. The first scan was of a tapir print, followed by a series of petroglyphs and later a large bolder about 25 feet out in the river. The other team members made various hydrological and geological measurements as well as using an X-ray spectrograph scan of the material composition of artifacts and petroglyphs. One of the villagers also found a pottery leg which we did a full round 3D scan of. We spent the night on the sand bar with our guides carefully monitoring the water level in case of a flash flood but nothing really bad happened.

The trip back was in reverse but much easier because it was down river so instead of 8 hours in the canoes, it was 3 hours. One boat with Eli and Sam hit a rock and sank a few inches but was still operable…yes, the boats still float albeit below the water. I credit Eli with holding onto and saving the pelican case containing the scanners, which also floats. The climate would go from hot sun to dense rain throughout the trip. I guess that is why it is a rain forest. There were lots of mosquitoes, hence the “mosquito coast,” a few scorpions and Chris and Josh crossed paths with some snake. Over all nothing went wrong so we arrived back a day early and spent it staying in a beach front area in Tela.

I departed from San Pedro Sula and arrived back in Lexington, July 28, 2011.

HondurasActivities.jpg HondurasNightSky.jpg

(left collage) 3D scanning and X-ray material analysis. (right collage) Night sky as seen from Honduran Jungle. Photos by Josh Howard.


Expeditor truck: Expeditors are at the top of the food chain with the most advanced technology in these regions. They are very skilled and flamboyant characters, … sort of like fighter pilots.


(left) View of the beach “road” (Center) Ferry used to move the truck across river outlets and (right) riding on the ferry.

MotorizedCanoeA.jpg LagunaEbano.jpg

(Left)Motorized canoe going through canal area from the lagoon to the river. From closest to furthest, Mikhail(or maybe Josh?), Larry, Sam and the rest are local villagers. (right) Laguna Ebano. Photos probably taken by Chris.


Las Marias: (left) Kitchen and (right) Eli and Larry outside the rooms. We all like staying at this site.


Mikhail and Mikhail’s favorite dog in Las Marias.


(left) Two boat pullers taking us up river. (right) Chris and Mikhail, probably a later shot coming down river because the puller is sitting.


(left) Famous mountain peak, Pico Damas, in Rio Platano. (right) Famous “dragon” petroglyph


We camped near the “dragon” petroglyph so we could go over easily at night to conduct scanning.


Jungle Camp Day 1: (left) Hammock and camping gear. (right) Sam.


Day 2 in Jungle: (left to right) Various Petroglyphs and boulders.


Day 2 in Jungle: Sand bar camp.


(left) Chris taking a break and (right) Mikhail taking a break.


There are 3 types of data files, MAT5: E (E.bmp) and F (F.bmp) and VRML (.wrl). The VRML format is used for full round scans and MAT5 is used for single POVs. We also can convert VRML to F.bmp formats but they can only be viewed as point clouds and do not contain any polygon information.  You will need to use the GL3DView.exe application to view and/or convert the data to other formats. The MAT5 format is an open format and the input C source code is available. In general the data is very large. A good way to view VRML is to use the free opensource software, MeshLab or BLENDER. Just google MeshLab or BLENDER to find the downloads from For example, you can get MeshLab at


TAPIR HOOF IMPRESSION: impression0_5_1XcropE.bmp

Copy of tapirPrintPhoto.JPGQuadChart.JPG

Tapir hoof print found on sandbar in Rio Platano.


BOULDER IN RIVER: PetroRock0_2new1X_clipF.bmp


Boulder about 25 feet out into the river. This is the longest distance scan we have made with the battery operated remote scanner. Also, this was a post calibration technique where we configured the scanner on site and then later reconstructed it in the lab to get the calibration data needed for post-processing of the data. There were problems: As seen in the right set of images, (top to bottom: texture, metallic and depth encoded) there is banding. In spite of the banding, the primary petroglyph can readily be seen. Most of the other smaller petroglyphs can also be seen if band suppression is used on the local areas and the synthetic shading optimized. We now know where most of the banding came from and it should be significantly reduced in future scans.


POTTERY LEG ARTIFACT: FullRound VRML and potteryleg-rbg-merged-2_clipF.bmp



PETROGLYPH FEATURE 6: PetroFeature6.zipx




PETROGLYPH FEATURE 7: PetroFeature7.zipx



PETROGLYPH FEATURE 8: PetroFeature8.zipx



PETROGLYPH FEATURE 9: PetroFeature9.zipx



PETROGLYPH FEATURE 10: PetroFeature10.zipx



PETROGLYPH FEATURE 11: PetroFeature11.zipx



PETROGLYPH FEATURE 13: PetroFeature13.zipx