The Sacred Cave of Kamukuwaká

Mato Grosso, Brasil, 2018

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Within a region whose material culture is largely defined by impermanent objects, the sacred 
cave of Kamukuwaká provides a vital insight into ancient Xinguan cosmogonic and ethno-historic cartography. As the legendary site of the residency and reclusion of the mythical hero-ancestor Kamukuwaká and his people, it is a space that is associated with the origin of the initiation ritual of Xinguan communities’ young leaders. Its engravings represent the source of much of the Xinguan traditional graphic repertoire, being widely reproduced in ritual body paintings, traditional pottery, and basketry.

© Vilson de Jesus

© Vilson de Jesus

The exclusion of this important element of indigenous, national, and world heritage from the Xingu people’s demarcated territory contributed to the tragedy that befell the site in 2018, when the engravings were systematically destroyed. Although the exact identity of the assailant is unknown, the destruction is representative of the tensions felt between indigenous and farming communities in Mato Grosso. In addition, deforestation at the headwaters upstream has resulted in increased sedimentation of the river and the rise of the water levels, aggravating the factors of erosion to which the rock art panels in the cave are directly exposed. Kamukuaká is a site that deeply resonates with the traditions of the inhabitants of Xingu, as well demonstrates the grave contemporary threats to their way of life.

In September 2018, an expedition to Kamukuwaká was organised as one of the first steps in 
a project to ensure the preservation of the listed cave. Collaborating with an independent team of Brazilian anthropologists, it aimed to document the site using high-resolution 3D-imaging technologies, including laser-scanning and photogrammetry: precautionary measures intended to safeguard against precisely such a disastrous event. Upon arrival at the site, it was revealed to have been devastated with the most important petroglyphs hacked away. Factum Foundation’s team recorded the site in its vandalised state.

The mapping of the vandalised areas of the cave from the LiDAR and photogrammetry data will be used in combination with photographic documentation dating from before the attack to produce an accurate 3D restoration of the cave, at a scale of 1:1. The reconstructed physical cave will be exhibited with material that explores the cultural significance of the site as well as the technological challenge of restoring it.

It is hoped that this artistic and technological statement will have a real world impact, by gathering support for the Wauja with what they believe to be the only way to safeguard Kamukuwaká: to reclaim it and its surroundings as indigenous lands and reinstate a village nearby. With the unprecedented political threat to the Amazon rainforest posed by the current Brazilian government, the restoration of the cave of Kamukuwaká will serve as a platform for the voice of its indigenous communities.

The physical 3D reconstruction of the cave will be sent to the Wauja community. It will be able to continue its work of transmitting a sense of place and history from one generation to the next.

Preventative and post-damage digitisation, as well as 3D reconstruction, will never replace the value of at-risk or vandalised testimonies from the past. It is nonetheless becoming more and 
more urgent to demonstrate that there are ways to face those threats. The engravings, restored through 3D-modelling from the historical photographs, will reinstate sections that have been removed by the iconoclasts. This is painstaking scientific work on local knowledge and documentary photographs. But this digital reconstruction can preserve the memories and creation myths of the Wauja people. In an unstable political situation, there are more and more examples of orchestrated destruction or mindless vandalism. It is increasingly urgent to demonstrate that technology can be used to help to face fundamentalist or commercially motivated destruction of cultural heritage.

LiDAR scanning of the vandalised cave in September 2018 © Factum Foundation

LiDAR laser-scan data of the vandalised cave © Factum Foundation

LiDAR laser-scan data of the vandalised cave © Factum Foundation

LiDAR laser-scan data of the vandalised cave © Factum Foundation

Detail of the vandalised cave © Factum Foundation

Photogrammetry data of the vandalised cave © Factum Foundation

3D model of the sacred cave highlighting one of the vandalised areas (purple) © Factum Foundation

Photogrammetry data of the vandalised cave © Factum Foundation

3D model of the sacred cave highlighting one of the vandalised areas (purple) © Factum Foundation

 

 

 

 

A photograph of one of the vandalised areas compared to an archive photograph from before the attack

A photograph of one of the vandalised areas compared to an archive photograph from before the attack

 

Changes suggested by the Wauja elders compared to the digital restoration

2D images converted as heightmaps and projected as 3d data onto the digital restoration, adapting the information to the topology of the cave

2D images converted as heightmaps and projected as 3d data onto the digital restoration, adapting the information to the topology of the cave

The digitally restored images of all areas of vandalism were sent to the Wauja community as A3 renders. Two anthropologists helped them to project their knowledge onto the digital restoration © Mafalda Ramos

Using magic markers and acetate sheets that were given to the community, the meaning of the texts were modified to clarify the meaning © Mafalda Ramos

Drawings made in Piyulewene on acetate - the different colours relate to different peoples.

3D model of a section of the cave merging the corrections sent by the Wauja

This data was materialised through a 3 axis CNC machine milling directly onto medium density polyurethane at a resolution of 200 microns. The high-resolution details from the digital restoration will be integrated manually onto the surface, before the application of an acrylic resin. The resin will give the polyurethane the appearance of the original cave.

The physical reconstruction being CNC milled. © Oak Taylor Smith

The physical reconstruction being CNC milled. © Oak Taylor Smith

The medium density polyurethane onto which the information from the digital restoration will be replicated. © Oak Taylor Smith

The medium density polyurethane onto which the information from the digital restoration will be replicated. © Oak Taylor Smith

The medium density polyurethane onto which the information from the digital restoration will be replicated. © Oak Taylor Smith

Reference board detailing the graphic imagery of the Xinguan people alongside the digital reconstruction of the cave. © Oak Taylor Smith

Reference board showing the destroyed petroglyphs as outlined by the Wauja. © Oak Taylor Smith

Adam Lowe adding notes. © Oak Taylor Smith

© Oak Taylor Smith

© Oak Taylor Smith

© Oak Taylor Smith

© Oak Taylor Smith

© Oak Taylor Smith

First cave sections completed to match the colour and texture of the real surface © Oak Taylor Smith

First cave sections completed to match the colour and texture of the real surface © Oak Taylor Smith

First cave sections completed to match the colour and texture of the real surface © Oak Taylor Smith

First cave sections completed to match the colour and texture of the real surface, showing petroglyph detail © Oak Taylor Smith

Working on the surface of the cave © Oak Taylor Smith for Factum Foundation

Working on the surface of the cave © Oak Taylor Smith for Factum Foundation

Working on the surface of the cave © Oak Taylor Smith for Factum Foundation

Working on the surface of the cave © Oak Taylor Smith for Factum Foundation

Video

A video describing the stages of the project prior to the rematerialisation of the cave

 

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