Your behavior appears to be a little unusual. Please verify that you are not a bot.


Modeling Pompeii: A new era of tech-driven collaboration in archaeology

January 26, 2024  - By
A street in Pompeii shows the structures that were remarkably preserved after Mount Vesuvius covered the city in ash in 79 CE. Everything about Porta Nocera, Region I 14 is being digitized by archaeologists. (Image: Allison Emmerson)

A street in Pompeii shows the structures that were remarkably preserved after Mount Vesuvius covered the city in ash in 79 CE. Everything about Porta Nocera, Region I 14 is being digitized by archaeologists. (Image: Allison Emmerson)

At the edge of Pompeii, along a city gate known as the Porta Nocera, professor Allison Emmerson of Tulane University directs a team of archaeologists. The famous Roman city, frozen in time when Mount Vesuvius erupted and covered it with ash, continues to reveal new insights to archaeologists nearly 275 years after the site was first discovered.

Within a building long believed to be a home around 2,000 years ago, the team unearthed a different story — one unraveling traces of economics, urban design, and social life among an elite and a lower class. To tell the story, Emmerson and her team have created a location-aware digital twin of the excavation site, which incorporates 2D maps, smart maps, and 3D models. The team is also able to share live data via a fully digital workflow using iPad Pros and Apple Pencils.

Revolutionary documentation with mobile app workflows

The latest geographic information system (GIS) technology allows Emmerson’s team to digitize everything they unearth at Porta Nocera, Region I Insula 14 as part of the Pompeii I.14 Project run by Tulane.

The team first used UAV imagery, terrestrial photography, and a technique called structure-from-motion photogrammetry to create a base map and 3D base model of the site. They then used tablets loaded with GIS apps to layer data over that 3D base model.

Leading the GIS data collection workflow is professor Alex Elvis Badillo, cohead of the project’s digital data initiatives team. Badillo said the archeologists use GIS documentation on the iPad Pro to record and explore data in layers to avoid information destruction.

Using ArcGIS Survey123, the team can share data on-site and implement paperless workflows. That data can also be linked to digital ArcGIS Dashboards to keep track of progress and foster collaboration during the excavation.

Interpreting the dig site

Emmerson and her team determined that the structure they initially uncovered was used for commercial activity such as shopping and dining, often identified with the lower classes at the time. Meanwhile, an elite residence was located right next door and the two buildings shared resources.

Lidar (light detection and ranging) uses laser light to densely sample the surface of the Pompeii I.14 site, producing highly accurate x,y,z measurements that provide the foundation for the digital twin. (Image: Allison Emmerson)

Lidar (light detection and ranging) uses laser light to densely sample the surface of the Pompeii I.14 site, producing highly accurate x,y,z measurements that provide the foundation for the digital twin. (Image: Allison Emmerson)

The Pompeii I.14 Project is ongoing. Once it is complete, the data will be incorporated into a larger digital twin from the Pompeii Bibliography and Mapping Project (2017) led by Eric Poehler, an associate professor of Classics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. It will also be added to Pompeii’s central archaeology database and be available to policymakers, educators, archaeologists, and the public.

Researchers hope that a new understanding of the economic and social life of an ancient city such as Pompeii can not only inform us about the past but also help us create a better future.

UAV imagery draped over the lidar data provides a photorealistic surrogate of the Pompeii I.14 Project site, which serves as the centerpiece for project data collection. (Image: Allison Emmerson)

UAV imagery draped over the lidar data provides a photorealistic surrogate of the Pompeii I.14 Project site, which serves as the centerpiece for project data collection. (Image: Allison Emmerson)

This story originally appeared on Esri Blog.

This article is tagged with and posted in Featured Stories, From the Magazine, Latest News, Mapping, Mobile, Survey