GigaPan technology was developed by the Robotic Institute at Carnegie Mellon University and NASA for the Martian Rover in order to produce high-resolution panoramas. It involves a robotic camera mount on a tripod that enables dozens to hundreds of detailed digital images to be taken in a matrix of rows and columns that can then be stitched together to produce a seamless panoramic image. That combined image can then be explored online by zooming in at close range to a particular spot or navigating around the image with the computer cursor. Clicking on selected snapshots along the bottom of the screen enables the viewer to zoom to a specific place on the GigaPan image of particular interest. These individual snapshots are accompanied by informative text, enhancing the education value of the GigaPan images.
When archaeologists study hundreds of petroglyphs in a remote area, there are many advantages to having a GigaPan record. Prior to the GigaPan technology, the standard means of recording petroglyphs was extremely time-consuming onsite and involved a combination of large quantities of individual photos, illustrations and plans of complex scenes. GigaPan saves time and greatly improves our record, which makes our analysis more comprehensive and accurate and, hopefully, our conclusions more reliable. Further, it preserves this detailed record so that most of the analysis can be done at a computer at the home institution. Finally, by posting the images on a Web site, scholars from around the world can do their own studies without having to travel to these remote locations.
GigaPan allows the archaeologists to understand the geological setting chosen by the ancient artists, which in turn reveals something of their habitat and the places they regarded as important, either for occupation or ceremonial functions. Of course, climate change means that their environment could have looked considerably different than it does today, particularly during the Wet Phase, but the rock formations were basically the same.
Those who study petroglyphs understand that it can sometimes be difficult to return back to the exact location where the photographed image was, but by combining GPS coordinates with GigaPan panoramas, return visits are greatly simplified. Utilizing a combination of GigaPan and Google Earth images of the locality makes it that much simpler to drive immediately back to the point of origin for a particular petroglyph panel, saving precious time that is better spent discovering additional localities, or focusing on the ones already known.
The most obvious advantage of the GigaPan technology is one that many disciplines share in common. That is, the variable scaling of information: the ability to zoom from large-scale images down to minute details. Without GigaPan, the archaeologist is forced to take lots of images: some wide angle, some normal, some close-up. If there are dozens of individual figures in a given panel, how can he or she capture all that information in a timely fashion? Wide-angle shots usually have a number of images that are not in focus, or are poorly lit, plus it is difficult to see the details. Individual close-ups may be difficult to map in when you go back home and want to relate them to each other. GigaPan gives you the overview and the details, and they are linked spatially. By zooming in on a cliff face at an intermediate level, the viewer can study a scene with multiple figures in order to understand the meaning behind it and the actions taking place. An extreme close-up allows the viewer to look at how individual figures were manufactured and whether one figure overlays an earlier one.