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. This will lead to the creation of an exact physical facsimile of the cave, at a scale of 1:1, to be displayed at the first 'Pavilion of Indigenous People', at the garden of the Knights of Malta, 
during the 2019 Venice Biennale of Art.

It is hoped that this forensically accurate technological statement will have a real-world impact, by helping the Wauja with what they believe to be the only way to safeguard the knowledge incised into the sacred cave of Kamukuwaká. The long-term aim is to reclaim the sacred cave and its surroundings as indigenous lands and reinstate a village nearby.

After the exhibition in Venice, the facsimile of the restored 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.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preparing the creation of a new geometry of the vandalised areas by projecting 2D information into a new 3D mesh

Preparing the creation of a new geometry of the vandalised areas by projecting 2D information into a new 3D mesh

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.

 

Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation urgently needs your support for the production of the two facsimiles of the cave of Kamukuwaká, in its vandalised and restored state.

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