Smart Archaeology (2018-2019)


Smart technologies involve the use of different collaborative and intelligent tools able to automatize several activities performed in the environment and in everyday objects, such as the case of the Internet of Things. In archaeology, smart technologies can include sensors, close range sensing systems, robots, rovers, drones, laser scanners and specific software able to process data from multiple sources. The impact of smart technologies in the next decades will be revolutionary also for the social sciences, the humanities and the sciences of the past.

This multiyear Bass Connections project has developed a robust technological and interdisciplinary workflow, from digital data capturing to virtual simulation, archiving and visualization.

Project Description

In this 2018-2019 Bass Connections project, five research units will collaborate on the archaeological investigation and study of ancient important cities of the Mediterranean dating back to the first millennium BCE. Vulci (Viterbo, Italy) was one of the most important Etruscan city-states, and Duke is the first university with a permit of excavation in the last 60 years. The research focus is Etruscan and Roman urbanism in relation to the architectural public space. Akragas (Agrigento, Italy) and the park of the Valley of the Temples was a Greek-founded city-state located on the south coast of Sicily. The remote sensing investigation (drones and UAVs) is focused on the interpretation of the Hellenistic and Roman city.

Classical Studies (led by M. Forte): Smart digging unit, in charge of fieldwork, digital data collection (survey and excavation) and development of a pilot 3D repository online

The project will involve the use of multiple sensors during the excavation and landscape data collection in a micro- and macro-scale. All the stratigraphic units will be recorded in three dimensions by lidars, smart trowels, ground penetrating radar and digital photogrammetry.

Art, Art History & Visual Studies – Emergence Lab (led by B. Seaman): Smart knowledge navigation, visualization and knowledge unit

The team will explore the notion of cyberarchaeology through the associative lens of focused computational interactivity. The web-based interface enables a user-centric experience, driving the generation of a textual and visual set of associative experiences—calling up different words, phrases, titles, images, videos, URLs and models as a network of potential associations that are brought into visual and conceptual proximity. Such a work functions both on a local level in a visual installation, as well as on a laptop driven across the internet, forming a vast community of potential contributing researchers.

Pratt School – DiVE (led by R. Kopper): Smart VR unit, implementation of smart data in immersive virtual reality systems and 360-degree video telepresence experience

Smart virtual reality will be achieved by refining the Dig@IT tool to add multiuser support and by incorporating PanoVR, which allows interactive viewing and conferencing over live and prerecorded 360-degree video.

Nicholas School – Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Lab (led by D. Johnson). Smart sensing unit, use of multispectral sensors for interpretation and mapping of archaeological landscape

The activity of drone sensing will involve the use of fixed-wing UAS (senseFly eBee and eBee+) in order to create multispectral (RGB, Red Edge Infrared) imagery and high-resolution digital elevation models. The goal is the interpretation and classification of archaeological features identifiable by soil-marks and crop-marks. These sensors and processing will be integrated with close-range sensors in the analysis of the landscape and of the archaeological excavation.

North Carolina State University College of Design (led by T. Berreth): Smart sensors unit

This unit will refine the preliminary prototypes of the Smart Towel, define the design space for this tool, articulate the immediate and future uses of the device, identify potential industrial design and engineering collaborators and roadmap short and long-term development goals.

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

Anticipated Outcomes

Case studies on urban planning in the first millennium BCE and its transformation and impact across centuries and in different societies (Etruscan, Greek, Roman); public presentation of the results; exhibition in AAVHS Department and at Nasher Museum of Art


Summer 2018 – Spring 2019  

  • Summer 2018: Fieldwork in Vulci and Akragas, digital data recording by laser scanners, image modeling, rovers, UAVs spectral analysis and photogrammetry (June-August)
  • Fall 2018: Data post-processing, standardization and implementation for VR and immersive systems (beginning of defining the database)
  • Spring 2019: Software development and post-processing (ongoing database additions); public presentation of the results on campus and in an exhibition in the AAVHS Department and at the Nasher Museum of Art

Team Outcomes to Date

Maurizio Forte, Fondazione Luigi Rovati: Vulci 3000 Project ($57,300 grant awarded from Fondazione Luigi Rovati, 2018)

Secrets Beneath the Surface: Using Today’s Technology to Discover Vulci’s Past (poster by Katherine McCusker, Maurizio Forte, presented at Bass Connections Showcase, Duke University, April 17, 2019)


Drone Mapping

This Team in the News

Cutting-edge Imaging Technologies Enable a New View of an Ancient City

Drone Built by Duke Students Creates 3D Map

Meet the 2019 Recipients of Bass Connections Student Research Awards

Helen Healey, Documentary Filmmaker for an Archaeological Excavation

See related teams, Smart Archaeology (2019-2020) and Digital Cities and Cyberarchaeology (2017-2018).

Smart Archaeology team in the field

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-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Helen Healey, Visual and Media Studies (AB)
  • Hojung Kwon, Computer Science (BS), Art History (AB2)
  • Jasmine Lu, Electrical & Computer Egr(BSE), Computer Science (BSE2)
  • Wenqin Wang, Computer Science (BS)
  • Hongxuan (Max) Wang, Mechanical Engineering (BSE), Int Comparative Studies (AB2)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Todd Berreth, North Carolina State University
  • Nevio Danelon, Art,Art History