A bit closer to the past: the three-dimensionalization of an Inca ceremony in the north Calchaquí Valley (Salta, Argentina)


  • Alejandro Andrés Ferrari Multidisciplinary Institute of History and Human Sciences, National Scientific and Technical Research Council
  • Joaquín Ignacio Izaguirre Multidisciplinary Institute of History and Human Sciences, National Scientific and Technical Research Council https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8510-2609
  • Félix Alejandro Acuto Multidisciplinary Institute of History and Human Sciences, National Scientific and Technical Research Council ; Universidad Nacional de La Matanza https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3157-941X




Inca public ceremonies, 3D modelling tools and techniques, archaeological interpretation, cultural heritage, academic dissemination


Like other expansive polities, the expansion of the Inca empire across the highlands and lowlands of South America is not only a history of trade and warfare, but also of mesmerizing public performances that yielded new and memorable experiences. During highly ritualized public celebratory events, the local polities gained first-hand access to the imperial liturgy, which was vital to promote and legitimate the Inca cosmology across the newly acquired lands. Especially in the last 20 years, new technologies, an ever-growing corpus of archaeological data, as well as increasing hardware capacity and software development, make it possible to emulate the scenes that people got to witness during the Inca public events, at a home computer scale and without complex and expensive equipment. Furthermore, it prompts us to test and apply new tools and academic dissemination techniques, perhaps more suitable to current technologies and means of knowledge storage and circulation. This article presents the process of building a three-dimensional (3D) model that, on the one hand, combines historical, ethnographic, and archaeological data with Geographic Information System (GIS) datasets; on the other hand, it uses detailed architectural analysis and astronomical measurements. The objective is to yield renders that accurately display the atmospheric and lighting conditions prevailing when the site was inhabited. We will offer a detailed description of all methods, techniques, equipment, and software used to create the model and the parameters for rendering the images. The authors intend to exemplify how 3D modelling goes well beyond the 3D model as a product in itself; it becomes a fundamental tool that encouraged us to test new variables and discuss new interpretations about this settlement. Results indicate that its builders designed these settlement's Inca compounds to show off the imperial capabilities and constructive proficiency, to convey exceptional, memorable experiences to its residents and visitors, and to stage explicit links between the imperial representatives and some fundamental procreative components of the Andean cosmos. In doing so, Guitián's plaza served to stage and communicate the privileged role the imperial representatives claimed to have in a broader cosmological scheme.Highlights:
  • Inca public performances were finely choreographed so that objects, places, people, landscape, and skyscape features interacted according to the main principles of imperial cosmology.
  • Current mid-range hardware and specialized yet reasonably user-friendly software are suitable to create accurate three-dimensional (3D) models combining historical, archaeological, and astronomical data.
  • Creating such a detailed 3D model contributes to cultural heritage and academic dissemination and prompted us to revise and broaden our interpretations.


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How to Cite

Ferrari, A. A., Izaguirre, J. I., & Acuto, F. A. (2021). A bit closer to the past: the three-dimensionalization of an Inca ceremony in the north Calchaquí Valley (Salta, Argentina). Virtual Archaeology Review, 12(25), 16–41. https://doi.org/10.4995/var.2021.15285