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 and in a range of tera- and petabytes of information. “Big data” is the challenge of this millennium for any scientific field. In the case of archaeology and environmental sciences it is necessary to visualize data and models in real time in order to interpret them in a simulation environment.

This research team will be engaged in a wide range of technological and fieldwork activities at Duke, in Turkey and in Italy at the intersection of hard sciences, environmental studies, cybernetics and the humanities.

Project Description

The project will involve an integrated use of spatial technologies for recording massive quantities of data, and implementing and standardizing them for virtual reality platforms, visualization systems and open-access digital repositories in polysensing environments. The case studies will be the archaeological site of Vulci, a well-known Etruscan and Roman city in Italy, and the archaeological site of Burgaz (Burgaz Harbors Project, in collaboration with Stanford University), from the 4th century BCE in Turkey.

Vulci 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. A large percentage of Greek Attic vases known in the world today have been found in the Vulci cemeteries. The habitation site is a unique stratified and mostly untouched urban context that includes Iron Age, Etruscan, Roman and Medieval settlements.

The Burgaz Harbors Project comprises a cross-disciplinary program of selective excavation and survey with geomorphology, geochemistry, remote sensing, geographic information systems (GIS) modeling and materials analysis. The project investigates the cultural, environmental and economic processes behind constructed maritime landscapes, the interrelated effects of technological development and socioeconomic change and the complementary roles played by diverse nodes within the maritime network at Burgaz, along the Datça peninsula, throughout the southeast Aegean and beyond.

For Vulci we will use a multiscale approach at macro (landscape) and micro (site) level. In a virtual reality environment in fact, it is important to interact with data recorded in the field, computer graphic reconstructions and relational databases. The combination of different formats and models opens new research perspectives in the performance and simulation of data sets in real time.

We will leverage the virtual reality framework developed during by the Digital Archaeological and Historic Landscapes Bass Connections project team, where it is now possible to virtually visit and excavate the archaeological site of Çatalhöyük. The current Dig@IT virtual reality archaeological system is able to display stratified layers of excavation, and users can fly around the virtual environment in order to explore different parts of the scene. In this project, we will extend Dig@IT, particularly incorporating remote sensing data, captured using different techniques. For example, laser-based remote sensing generates volumetric datasets, with several meters of depth. We will design an immersive visualization tool to allow users to slice through the volumetric data, in order to explore the environment as it would have existed in different points in time.

Anticipated Outcomes

The goal is to provide a seamless integration of reconstructed landscape and architecture gathered from remote sensing with the exact data models stemming from the excavation site. Ultimately, the user will wander through virtually reconstructed ancient cities city and be able to explore current excavation sites as well as an interpretation of what unexcavated areas would have been based on predictive modeling gathered from remote sensing.

Related Courses

Maurizio Forte will teach classes on Digital Archaeology, The Ancient Mind (cyber-brain) and Etruscans in 2016-2017.


Summer 2016 – Spring 2017

Summer 2016: Fieldwork in Vulci and Burgaz; digital data recording by laser scanners, image modeling, UAVs spectral analysis and photogrammetry. Fall 2016: Data post-processing, standardization and implementation for VR and Immersive systems. Spring 2017: Development of a 3D repository for polysensing data; visualization tests in the DiVE and in the Dig@Lab and Emergence Lab; first release of a pilot software with the data collected.

Team Outcomes to Date

Rediscovering a Hidden City: Exploring Vulci through Remote Sensing (Maurizio Forte, David Johnston, Katherine McCusker, Everette 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)


Katherine McCusker, PhD Student

This Team in the News

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

See earlier related team, Digital Archaeological and Historic Landscapes: Laboratory and Fieldwork (2015-2016).

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*

Graduate Team Members

Katherine McCusker, Art, Art History

Undergraduate Team Members

Xingyu Chen, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Computer Science (BS2)
Forest Cummings-Taylor, Computer Science (AB)
Benedict Parfit, Classical Civilization (AB)
Yumin Zhang, Computer Science (BS), Philosophy (AB2)

* denotes team leader