Digital Cities and Cyberarchaeology (2017-2018)


This project is aimed at the creation of an innovative digital workflow in cyberarchaeology with the use of cutting-edge technologies of remote sensing, data recording, real-time visualization and 3D online publication of models and databases. The core archaeological and anthropological question is the diachronic study of urban transformations in different societies in the first millennium BCE and in the early Romanization. Sites include the Etruscan city of Vulci and the Greek colony of Akragas and the park of the Valley of the Temples, both in Italy, and Burgaz in Turkey.

The study of Etruscan cities and urbanism is closely related to the concept of the city-state and its organization. A complex and independent socioeconomic unit, it was self-organized but open to trading and connections inside and outside the influence of Etruscan territory.

Akragas and the Valley of the Temples was a Greek-founded city-state located on the south coast of Sicily. At its peak the city may have had as many as 300,000 inhabitants, and it was enclosed by over 12 kilometers of fortification walls with nine gates. The project’s remote sensing investigation, using drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), will be focused on the Western part of the city, which is not yet excavated and is difficult to interpret.

In Burgaz, the team will work on the investigation of coast sites and maritime activities in the Hellenistic and Roman period.

Project Description

This 2017-2018 Bass Connections project will improve the technologies used in the previous version of this project and experiment with new sensors and apps for data recording and visualization.

Four research units of this project team will work at Duke, and one will work at North Carolina State University:

  1. Classical Studies (Forte); in charge of fieldwork and digital data collection; laser scanners, digital photogrammetry and remote sensing tools will record in 2D and 3D the archaeological excavation of Vulci in micro scale and the sites of Akragas and Burgaz in macro scale (landscape and environment)
  2. Art, Art History & Visual Studies—Emergence Lab (Seaman); design new interfaces and software for 3D datasets and search engines; data processing, search engines, 3D simulation and visualization environments
  3. Pratt School—DiVE (Kopper); implement models and data for the DiVE and virtual reality systems; data processing, search engines, 3D simulation and visualization environments
  4. Nicholas School—Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Lab (Johnson); experiment with new sensors and cameras for drone’s data collection; laser scanners, digital photogrammetry and remote sensing tools will record in 2D and 3D the archaeological excavation of Vulci in micro scale, the sites of Akragas and Burgaz in macro scale (landscape and environment)
  5. North Carolina State University College of Design (Berreth); design and test new sensors for archaeological excavations; data processing, search engines, 3D simulation and visualization environments.

All of the digital labs are part of the Computational Media, Arts and Culture (CMAC) program at Duke.

The team will produce case studies focused on urban transformation in relation to the landscape and the environment. The main research focus for all of them is the diachronic transformation and relevant impact on the modern landscape.

The main output of the digital recording will be a distributed virtual reality app. The focus of the application development will be to allow collaborative exploration by multiple simultaneous users in hybrid systems, for example using the DiVE, Oculus Rifts, HTC Vives and more readily available cell-phone-based tools (such as Google Cardboard).

The team will develop a multimedia repository that can contain many different kinds of digital models, digital artifacts, data visualizations and data sonifications.

Building on successful drone remote sensing at Vulci in 2016, team members will use fixed-wing unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and remote sensing approaches to survey all three study sites and create high resolution, radiometrically-calibrated orthomaps and 3D point cloud/mesh models.

The team will also augment the new “smart trowel” tool with a host of microcontrollers, wireless technologies and integrated sensors, allowing the tracking and transmission of position and movement, temperature, humidity, soil moisture and a collection of other data streams.

Anticipated Outcomes

Case studies, virtual reality app, multimedia 3D repository for polysensing data, orthomaps and 3D point cloud/mesh models, augmented smart trowel, public workshop at Duke

Student Opportunities

All team members will be fully immersed in a multidisciplinary research project with weekly meetings with a graduate coordinator and monthly general meetings with all the team leaders. Students will work in labs during the two semesters and in labs and in the field during the summer.

The team will include 3-5 undergraduates (background in digital humanities, archaeology, computer science, remote sensing; desired skills: spatial technologies, 3D modeling, VR, archaeological fieldwork, remote sensing); 1 graduate student with a background in archaeology or visual studies; 1 doctoral student for programming; 1 doctoral student for hardware/electrical engineering/sensor development and connectivity; 1 postdoc with a background in digital archaeology and skills in archaeological fieldwork, spatial technologies, remote sensing, virtual reality, classical archaeology or digital humanities; and 1 postdoc in digital archaeology with skills in digital applications in archaeology, game engines, VR software.

Students with backgrounds in computer science, art, art history, visual studies, archaeology, anthropology, environmental studies, engineering and social sciences are especially encouraged to apply.


Spring 2017 – Spring 2018

  • Spring 2017: Preparatory meetings, designing and testing of software and sensors; training of students and team members
  • Summer 2017: Fieldwork in Vulci, Akragas (Agrigento) and Burgaz; digital data recording by laser scanners, image modeling, UAVs spectral analysis and photogrammetry
  • Fall 2017: Data postprocessing, standardization and implementation for VR and immersive systems
  • Spring 2018: Development of a 3D repository for polysensing data; public workshop at Duke and presentation of the work; visualization tests in the DiVE, Dig@Lab and Emergence Lab; first release of a pilot software with the data collected; documentation for best practices for curating and presenting 3D content on the web; sharing of any software developing for preserving and presenting 3D materials


Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding

See earlier related team, Digital Cities and Polysensing Environments (2016-2017).

The Franklin Humanities Institute provides additional support for this project.

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Maurizio Forte, Trinity - Classical Studies*
David Johnston, Nicholas School - Marine Science and Conservation*
Regis Kopper, Pratt School - Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science*
William Seaman, Trinity - Art, Art History & Visual Studies*

Community Team Members

Todd Berreth, North Carolina State University*

* denotes team leader