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Last updated: 03.07.12

Mayan artefact virtual learning environment upgraded

A virtual learning environment containing collections of ancient Mayan artefacts is being enhanced.

The online learning platform, which is held by Florida Museum of Natural History, has been given a $53,000 (£33,800) two-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities' fund.

Some of the items that people involved in distance learning online can now view include objects that date back as far as 350 BC, such as shell trumpets, early cooking pots, jade beads, masks and lip-to-lip caches.

Florida Museum's curator of Latina American art and archaeology Susan Milbrath also highlighted a "huge vessel" as an interesting item that is on display, pointing out it originally had a "cache of jade heads in".

The e-learning scheme, called the Cerros Research Online Catalogue, was initially created in May 2011, following an investment from the university's Faculty Enhancement Opportunity Fund.

It now features at least 700 high-resolution images from the ancient site of Cerros in Belize.

"One of the interesting things about Cerros is that a lot of the deposits are caches that are specifically very ritual", Ms Milbrath said.

She explained this means objects were placed in a certain location in a particular manner, which was kept pristine.

As there was not much looting at that time, people could later recover these goods, the curator continued.

The grant will enable this project to digitise the remaining objects in the collection, with more than 2,800 maps, publications, field notes and items expected to be added to the exhibit.

There will also be approximately 50 three-dimensional pictures of the finest items.

Ms Milbrath revealed the virtual learning environment contains the US' "only major complete Mesoamerican late pre-classic collection available for study".

It is "the only broadly-accessible digital archive" that comes from the time in which the Mayan civilisation first began, she continued.

The Florida Museum of Natural History was first established in 1891 by Florida Agriculture College professor of natural science Frank Pickel, who bought human anatomy models, fossils and minerals to assist him in teaching agricultural sciences and biology.

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