Welcome to Maya world, underwater archaeological research on ancient Maya wooden architecture preserved in a peat bog below the sea floor in a shallow, salt-water lagoon on the coast of Belize, Central America: http://underwatermaya.com.  Join me  in the discovery and mapping of the underwater wooden structures and the other salt water-logged wooden and pottery artifacts. To really experience the research, you can watch video clips of snorkeling archaeologists and see building construction wood and artifacts in 3D. Currently, the web site provides an overview of 10 years of underwater Maya research in Paynes Creek National Park, and features one of the underwater sites, Paynes Creek Salt Work 74. Have a look at the map and click on the link for an interactive GIS map showing the wooden posts that form the outlines of two wooden buildings and a line of palmetto palm posts. Wondering why the sites are underwater? My colleagues, students and I did sediment coring and analyses of the mangrove peat, as you can read about in the “blog” page. (Stay tuned for updates) Low-lying areas world-wide are subject to inundation by sea-level rise, so the Paynes Creek Salt Works—once on dry land but submerged by sea-level rise—provide a sobering reminder of the effects of global warming. Check out articles via the publications link on the bottom of the first page.

One of the faculty mentors at the MSU Digital Institute on Archaeology Method and Practice said that I had achieved my project goals of creating a web page with open source GIS, text and images, 3D scans allowing me to take control of the digital creation and communication of the Underwater Maya project. Yes, I achieved my basic goals, but the digital journey continues! I have so much to learn, but the Institute pushed me to learn some skills, knowledge, and confidence to continue to strike out on my own and work with my new digital community of Institute colleagues. I am incorporating new digital approaches in teaching and research with undergraduate and graduate students. My student DIVA Lab scientists are already digitally ahead of the curve with 3D scanning and 3D printing (see http://site74.underwatermaya.com/DIVA_Lab.html).  See some students Maya research featured on the web site:  http://site74.underwatermaya.com/blog.html.

After the intensive, week-long Institute in August 2015 that introduced the other participants and me to a plethora of digital methods and approaches and thoughtful talks by Institute faculty, I spent time learning basic coding (html, CSS, bootstrap, some JavaScript), learning various open-source GIS programs (CartoDB, Mapbox, and QGIS), and trying out various software to put 3D scans on a web page, using data from my archaeological research in Belize. I spent time back on http://Codecademy.com , watching U-Tube videos, online tutorials, and asking questions on web searches. I read my fellow participants’ updates on the MSU Digital Archaeology web page and communicated through social media, email, and the Digital Archaeology Commons.   I selected Paynes Creek Salt Work 35 which has one wooden building, and then later settled on Paynes Creek Salt Work 74 that has two wooden buildings and a yard with a retaining wall against an ancient shoreline (according to my current interpretation!). I did all this work on my computer in a closed digital world. Occasionally, I posted something interesting on the DIVA Lab Facebook page, which I administer.

Still, I wondered how I was going to put my data on a web site and have a “digital project” for the August 2016 Institute meeting at MSU. With much enthusiasm and advice at the 2015 summer Institute, I had purchased a web site name on a web-hosting service. I also uploaded WordPress, a commonly used program for web sites. With the approach of my 2016 summer field season and the angst that I had not made the leap to the Internet, I made some decisions: I started coding in html and CSS on Notepad++. Being able to run the code and see what the web site would look like was initially very satisfying. I did more reading, looking at designs of various web sites, U-Tube videos, and thinking and wondering. The stress of impending summer field research, forced me to make decisions and lists.

Instead of using WordPress, I decided to upload my html, CSS, and bootstrap (and extraneous JavaScript) to my web domain. I wanted to control the design and updating and bring more sophistication to the design with continued learning of code. I used the qGIS2web plugin to create files and folders to upload to my web site. I had to downgrade image files (2D and 3D) to load in the allocated digital storage space on the web domain. I made the leap to using Sketchfab to store 3D scans and link them to my web site. I made the leap to using U-Tube to store movie clips to link to web page. As I launch http://underwatermaya.com, I am also feverishly trying to complete the complementary book manuscript, and plan to negotiate its digital/paper, “peaceful co-existence” with a publisher.

The MSU Digital Institute on Archaeology Method and Practice transformed the way I am able to do archaeology and I am grateful beyond words to Ethan Watrall and Lynn Goldstein for organizing and leading the Institute (http://digitalarchaeology.msu.edu/about/) , to the National Endowment for the Humanities for funding their grant, to the Institute faculty mentors who shared their digital expertise and dove into the quagmire of our digital projects (see http://digitalarchaeology.msu.edu/faculty/), and to my fellow participants and colleagues in this ongoing digital adventure. Their projects are impressive and innovative, and yes, are forging new pathways in digital archaeology (see updates at http://digitalarchaeology.msu.edu/news/). For me, the digital door has opened and there is no turning back!

The Underwater Maya archaeological research was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, National Geographic Society, Archaeological Institute of America, Foundation for the Advancement of Science, Inc., and Louisiana State University and accomplished with a team of current and former LSU students and faculty collaborators. Stay tuned for web updates!

Heather McKillop