The Digital Landscape: New Technologies to Visualize Ancient Landscapes (2014-2015)

How did the lagoon appear to the ancient Venetians when they looked out their windows? What plants grew near the Etruscan tombs? During the Neolithic Era, what did the inhabitants of Çatalhöyükin Turkey see?

Virtual reality allowed this project team to see through the eyes of our ancestors by “diving” into ancient landscapes using sophisticated 3D visualizing systems such as the DiVE, Oculus Rift and zSpace. These immersive systems were able to substantially increase team members' interpretations and perceptions of the virtual environment and digital landscapes.

These virtual reality systems essentially become time machines. Visitors in museums wearing special glasses can walk, run and interact with the ancient landscape by moving surrounding objects. The use of these platforms is a way to satisfy visitors’ curiosity and allow scientists to explore details of the past that cannot be observed using classic or conventional techniques. Virtual reality is a tool used to do an in depth study of the past and to teach students. Students use virtual realty to learn how to implement data found in archives and historical maps and to build a mosaic of information, recreating our ancestors’ world.

The Digital Landscape project team used virtual reality to explore the past. Team members learned how to extract data from history books and ancient geographic maps to implement in visualization software. Field campaigns and sampling provided insights on how to make the virtual reality more accurate. With the geographic information database completed, team members created the objects for the final virtual landscape.

Looking at historical aerial photos of the ancient Venice Lagoon landscape from 1929-1938, 1943-1945, 1954-1955 and 1962 and more recent cartography from 1970, 2003 and 2010, team members were able to calculate the decay and erosion. These efforts helped them to “rewind the clock” and estimate what the ancient salt marsh of the Venice Lagoon would have looked like.


Fall 2014 – Summer 2015

Team Outcomes

Maurizio Forte, Stefano Campana. “Digital Methods and Remote Sensing in Archaeology.” 2017. Springer.

Maurizio Forte. “Visualizing Mediterranean Archaeology.” 2014. Encyclopedia of Archaeology 7647-7657.

Reconstructing Vulci (poster by Katherine McCusker and Nevio Danelon)

Dig@IT: Virtual Reality in Archaeology (poster by Emmanuel Shiferaw, Cheng Ma, Regis Kopper, Maurizio Forte, Nicola Lercari)

See related team, Digital Archaeological and Historic Landscapes: Laboratory and Fieldwork (2015-2016). This project was selected by the Franklin Humanities Institute as a humanities-connected project.

Team Leaders

  • Maurizio Forte, Arts & Sciences-Classical Studies
  • Regis Kopper, Pratt School of Engineering-Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Hans Lie-Nielsen, Earth & Ocean Sciences (AB)
  • Cheng Ma, Mechanical Engineering (BSE), Computer Science (AB2)
  • Sophia Sennett, Visual and Media Studies (AB)
  • Emmanuel Shiferaw, Electrical & Computer Egr(BSE)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

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

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Nicola Lercari, University of California-Merced, World Heritage Program