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

Team Outputs to Date

New Technology to Explore an Ancient Past (Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Virtual Showcase 2020)

Tour of Virtual Excavation App (video by Aaron Paskin)

VR Smart Trowel (video by Todd Berreth)

Vulci 3000: Maurizio Forte and Antonio LoPiano (video by Anna Gotskind)

Vulci 3000: Major Finds (video by Anna Gotskind)

The Life of an Artifact (video by Anna Gotskind)

Smart Archaeology: Uncovering Secrets beneath the Surface (interactive presentation by Maurizio Forte and student team members, Duke University, John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies, November 20, 2019)


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

This Team in the News

Explore an Ancient City with the Smart Archaeology Team

Traveling Back in Time through Smart Archaeology

Uncovering Smart Archeology

I&E Graduate Fellow’s Work Brings History to Life

Antonio LoPiano, Vulci 3000 Archaeological Project


Where the Scholarly Work Takes Them

Vulci 3000: A High-Tech Excavation

Vulci 3000: Technology in Archaeology

Using Today’s Technology to Discover an Ancient Past

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


Team Leaders

  • Todd Berreth, North Carolina State University
  • Maurizio Forte, Arts & Sciences-Classical Studies
  • Michael Zavlanos, Pratt School of Engineering-Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science

/graduate Team Members

  • Tyler Johnson, Physics-PHD
  • Hayley Lawrence, Juris Doctor, Master of Laws
  • Antonio LoPiano, Classical Studies-PHD
  • Katherine McCusker, Art and Art History-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Achilles Dabrowski, Electrical & Computer Egr(BSE)
  • Anna Gotskind
  • Himanshu Jain, Electrical & Computer Egr(BSE)
  • Aaron Paskin, Computer Science (BS), Mathematics (BS2)
  • Jia Chen (Ivy) Shi, Computer Science (BS), Visual and Media Studies (AB2)
  • Alex Xu
  • Xiangyu Zheng

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Nevio Danelon, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies
  • William Seaman, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies
  • David Zielinski, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Ludwig Boltzmann Institute
  • Olivia Zitkus, Undergraduate Student, UNC-Chapel Hill