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Computational Archaeology in Italy

I just came back from a nice 2 week holiday in Italy, where I was spoiled with archaeology, art and sun (the latter not often seen in Berlin). We visited Napoli, Pompeii, Amalfi, Roma, Siena, Florence, Chianti and Pisa. Somewhere in between waiting for late/imaginary buses and drinking wine, we managed to see some incredible archaeological sites. This post tries to dig a bit deeper into the computational archaeology work done in the larger two of these sites, namely Pompeii and the Roman Forum (including the Colosseum).


Pompeii was an ancient Roman town located in the west of Italy near Mount Vesuvius. The town was subject to common tremours, but was damaged significantly during an earthquake in AD 62. The citizens were repairing the damaged town when Mount Vesuvius, the nearby volcano, erupted in AD 79, killing the inhabitants and leaving the town in the state that popularised it as a touristic and archaelogical site upon rediscovery.


Photo from my visit – Homes and Vesuvius in the background

Visiting Pompeii has been in my wishlist for a long time and it is a place that I would like to visit again. This incredible archaeological site was discovered in 1748 and it is so large that it is still being excavated. It contains homes, roads, an amphitheater, water systems, a Gymnasium, etc. Some of the mosaics and frescoes decorating the buildings have been well preserved. Additionally, due to the unique layer of ash created by the lava covering Pompeii, the famous casts of the human remains of Pompeians can be created using a resin. This is possible because the lava solidified over the body and as the body decomposed, a void was created between the layer of ash and the remaining human bones. A transparent resin is then injected into this void, creating a cast.

Pompeii is one of the sites that I have mentioned in this blog before as technology has often been used to analyse and present it. Here is some of the computational archaeology work that has been done for Pompeii:

  • Google maps street view – I have mentioned this in a previous post about Google maps mapping archaeological sites. You can now explore Pompeii (and other sites) via the commonly used Google app. In the link that I have added you should be able to walk around and also see to your left the pottery and casts discovered.
  • 3D models created by laser scans – Allow people to explore Pompeii virtually. The link provided will take you to an article that links to the project as well as to some raw 3D models.
  • Laser technology used for restoration of Frescos – The lasers aim to remove layers selectively in order to restore the Fresco to its original state.
  • CT scans of Pompeii victim casts – X-rays allow scientists to analyse the remains of Pompeii victims without destroying the casts that preserve their last moments. These scans are also being used to create 3D models of the remains and casts.
  • iPads used by archaeologists to document excavations – Also something mentioned before in this blog. Archaeologists often have paper based systems to document each step of their excavations. Pompeii archaeologists started using iPads in order to improve the recording of data.
  • 3D modeling using aerial imaging – Drones were used to capture areal images of Pompeii, which were used to generate a 3D model for an interactive Journey through the ruins.

The Roman Forum and the Colosseum

The Roman Forum refers to a set of Roman Ruins in the center of Rome which includes a large number of structures ranging from government buildings to temples. This is located near the Colosseum and was the center of life in ancient Rome. The Forum was abandoned following the fall of the western Roman empire and was slowly despoiled.

The Roman Forum contains a senate house, government offices, royal residences, tribunals, temples, memorials, statues, etc. This too is quite a large site. considering that it is in the middle of a modern city.


Roman Forum during my visit

Here is some of the computational archaeology work that has been done for the Roman Forum and Colosseum:


Colosseum during my visit

That’s all for now. If you have not yet had a chance to visit these incredible sites, I hope that these 3D models and virtual tours can give you a glimpse into the ancient Roman towns. Of course, I also wish that one day you can experience them yourself too.

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