Smart Archaeology (2019-2020)


Smart technologies involve the use of different collaborative and intelligent tools that automatize activities performed in the environment and in everyday objects, such as 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 for social sciences, humanities, sciences of the past and archaeology in particular.

Data capturing in this project involves the smart technologies described above. In particular, the combined use of multispectral drones and georadar prospections, which are noninvasive technologies, opens new research perspectives for extensive landscapes’ surveys. The inclusion of robot-drones, driven by artificial intelligence, improves the capacity to use additional sensors for automatizing the process of data capturing and as well data interpretation. The use of 3D cameras, VR tools and smart trowels during the excavation will create highly detailed and accurate models for interactive visualizations and augmented reality.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project team will continue work begun in 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 that focuses on smart archaeology. The current project is aimed at the digital investigation of the pre-Roman archaeological landscape of Vulci, Cerveteri and Tarquinia, the most important and visited pre-Roman sites in Central Italy. All three sites include thousands of uninvestigated tombs and urban spots, hidden by crops, vegetation and modern settlements.

Team members will identify new archaeological sites, analyze the landscape’s transformation and test new methods of data capturing, simulation and visualization. This project will include four research units:

Unit 1, Remote Sensing and 3D Archaeology

This research unit is focused on the use of 3D systems and remote sensing technologies for the investigation of the archaeological sites. The digital editing of the media will be able to create VR products for Oculus Rift and Oculus Go. Remote sensing applications will involve the use of multispectral drones (RGB, red-edge and infrared) for the study and spatial comparison of the three urban areas of Vulci, Cerveteri and Tarquinia.

Unit 2, Robotic Archaeology

The goal of this research unit is to use teams of ground and aerial robots to reconstruct a complete 3D model of an unknown environment. For a coordinated team of robots to achieve this task, every robot will require tightly integrated sensing, communication and control capabilities.

Unit 3, Virtual Archaeology

This research team will continue the development of a virtual reality experience of the reconstructed scanned models by incorporating an automated rendering of the stratigraphic layers. The team will extend the practice of capturing 360-degree footage at the dig site in 6K resolution. These videos will be made available for learning experiences through the collaborative viewing educational 360-degree video tool PanoVR.

Unit 4, Haptic Archaeology

Team members will create a training simulation that will provide in-field exposure to classrooms and labs. The interactive experience will be in VR, a 3D reconstruction of the Vulci dig site. The core mechanic will involve a first-person engagement with the unexcavated site via a virtual hand-mounted display and a virtual trowel.

Anticipated Outputs

Project website; research papers presented at American Association of Archaeologists conference and other international workshops; digital and documentary exhibition scheduled near the Vulci site; small digital exhibition at Duke Libraries and Smith Warehouse; 4-5 independent studies

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this team will include 6-8 undergraduates and 3-4 graduate students. Students in Classical Studies, Archaeology, Anthropology, Computer Science, Engineering, Art History & Visual Studies, Computational Media, Arts & Cultures (CMAC), Robotics, Environmental Studies and Digital Humanities are encouraged to apply.

Collectively, students’ skills should reflect the main goals of the research units and have experience working with geographic information systems, 3D modeling, remote sensing, computer graphics, robotics, drones, 3D video making, laser scanning and related topics. The multidisciplinary nature of the project will upgrade students’ skills in these areas as well as provide them with new skills in computer science, virtual reality, new media, data management, digital repositories and digital photogrammetry. Team members will learn by practice, processing and continuous tutoring and challenge their skills beyond their comfort zone.

Selected students will travel to the exhibition scheduled near the Vulci site in Summer 2019. The summer component will be optional for most of the students and mandatory for a very few of them, depending on roles. Students will spend 1-4 weeks in the field. The daily work in the field is usually 8 hours.


Summer 2019 – Summer 2020

  • Summer 2019 (Optional): Units 1 and 2 participate in fieldwork activities and practice data capturing, remote sensing, digital photogrammetry; finalization of fieldwork training; validation of digital content
  • Fall 2019: Data processing in lab
  • Spring 2020: Papers and posters presentations; final visualization of spatial data and VR demos; data simulation


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

See earlier related team, Smart Archaeology (2018-2019).


/faculty/staff Team Members

  • Todd Berreth, North Carolina State University**
  • Nevio Danelon, Art,Art History
  • Maurizio Forte, Arts & Sciences-Classical Studies*
  • Regis Kopper, Pratt School of Engineering-Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science*
  • William Seaman, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies
  • Michael Zavlanos, Pratt School of Engineering-Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science*
  • David Zielinski, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies

/graduate Team Members

  • Katherine McCusker, Art and Art History-PHD

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Douglas Calahan, Argo Systems
  • Ludwig Boltzmann Institute
  • Eric Levitan, Argo Systems