Digital Cities and Polysensing Environments (2016-2017)

The study, analysis and interpretation of modern and ancient cities require a multidisciplinary approach and advanced use of digital and polysensing technologies. Data recording in archaeology involves the use of different technologies, which produce large amounts of data in a very short time. This Bass Connections project was engaged in a wide range of technological and fieldwork activities at Duke and in Italy at the intersection of the sciences, environmental studies, cybernetics and the humanities.

This year’s primary case study was the archaeological site of Vulci, a well-known Etruscan and Roman city in Italy. It was one of the largest and most important cities of ancient Etruria and one of the biggest cities in the 1st millennium BCE in the Italian peninsula. The habitation site is a unique stratified and mostly untouched urban context that includes Iron Age, Etruscan, Roman and Medieval settlements.

Although Vulci is now a protected archaeological park, it is very large and would be too expensive and time consuming to excavate the entire city. Therefore, the team approached the problem from a different angle by using remote sensing techniques. This allowed team members to piece together a more complex and nuanced understanding of the urban center.

This project combined various remote sensing data as well procedural modeling for a layered analysis, which provides a holistic interpretation. The team collected data from magnetometry, ground penetrating radar and aerial photography from two separate drones using four different cameras.

The team found evidence to support the reuse of the street grid and urban layout by subsequent occupants. The combination of different bands from aerial photographs revealed the presence of several large buildings south of the main Western Forum, as well as an expansion of smaller features south. Further analysis is needed in the northern sector of the site to determine spatial patterns. While the data cover the urban center of the city, the boundary between the city and the rural area needs to be more clearly defined.


Summer 2016 – Spring 2017

Team Outcomes

Maurizio Forte, Vulci 3000 - the City-State: Formation, Development and Transformation ($15,000 grant awarded from the National Geographic Society, 2016)

Vulci3000 Project: A Digital Challenge (Maurizio Forte, Nevio Danelon, David Johnston, Katherine McCusker, Everett Newton) (presentation at 2017 Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology international conference, March 14-16, 2017, Atlanta, GA)

Adding the Aerial Multi-spectral Perspective: A Holistic View of Vulci through Multi-layered Data Sets (Katherine McCusker, Maurizio Forte, David Johnston, Everett Newton) (presentation at 2017 Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology international conference, March 14-16, 2017, Atlanta, GA)

Rediscovering a Hidden City: Exploring Vulci through Remote Sensing (Maurizio Forte, David Johnston, Katherine McCusker, Everett Newton, Nevio Danelon); third prize in 2017 Duke Research Computing Symposium poster competition

Rediscovering a Hidden City: Exploring Vulci through Remote Sensing (Katherine McCusker, Maurizio Forte, Nevio Danelon)

The Trajan Puzzle Project: An Exercise in Design Thinking (Maurizio Forte, Julia Liu, Nevio Danelon, Adam Spring, Todd Berreth)

Regium Lepidi 2200 (Maurizio Forte, Nevio Danelon)

Project demo at Archaeology Open House, Gross Hall at Duke University, April 5, 2017


Katherine McCusker

This Team in the News

Faculty Perspectives: David Johnston

Research from a New Point of View

The Impact of Drones and Remote Sensing in Archaeology

Recreating Catalhoyuk’s Historical Excavation in Virtual Reality

Virtual Archaeology in the DiVE

The most rewarding part of this experience has been the multiple viewpoints and interdisciplinary conversations that have occurred. My dissertation is very multidisciplinary so having a team which representations from many of those different areas has allowed me to move forward and to consider my data sets from perspectives I would not have consider initially. —Katherine McCusker

See related teams, Digital Cities and Cyberarchaeology (2017-2018) and Digital Archaeological and Historic Landscapes (2015-2016).

This project was selected by the Franklin Humanities Institute as a humanities-connected project.

Team Leaders

  • Maurizio Forte, Arts & Sciences-Classical Studies
  • David Johnston, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation
  • Regis Kopper, Pratt School of Engineering-Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science
  • William Seaman, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies

/graduate Team Members

  • Katherine McCusker, Art and Art History-AM, Art and Art History-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • /undergraduate
  • Xingyu Chen, Electrical & Computer Egr(BSE)
  • Forest Cummings-Taylor, Computer Science (AB)
  • Yumin Zhang, Computer Science (BS), Philosophy (AB2)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Nevio Danelon, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies