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We propose a hierarchical retrieval system where shape, color and motion characteristics of the human body are captured in compressed and uncompressed domains. The proposed retrieval method provides human detection and activity recognition at different resolution levels from low complexity to low false rates and connects low level features to high level semantics by developing relational object and activity presentations. The available information of standard video compression algorithms are used in order to reduce the amount of time and storage needed for the information retrieval. The principal component analysis is used for activity recognition using MPEG motion vectors and results are presented for walking, kicking, and running to demonstrate that the classification among activities is clearly visible. For low resolution and monochrome images it is demonstrated that the structural information of human silhouettes can be captured from AC-DCT coefficients.