digital heritage

‘Vesuvius, fare well until my return.’ A Non-Invasive Archaeological Research Project on the Shops of Roman Pompeii.

Via delle Scuole, Pompeii looking towards Mt Vesuvius. Copyright Sera Baker.

Via delle Scuole streetscape in Region 8, Pompeii looking towards Mt Vesuvius. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016.

Vesuvius and I have a little one-to-one chat each time I visit Pompeii in southern Italy. It’s the first thing and the last thing I do on every fieldwork and research visit. Without Vesuvius I couldn’t be the archaeologist and researcher that I am. 

As a Roman archaeologist specialising in socio-cultural and economic examinations of ancient Pompeii and the early Roman Empire I have visited the ancient city countless times in the past 15 years. I feel like I know the city like the back of my hand: entering at the Porta Marina gate, sharing greetings with the Pompeii superintendency staff and custodians who I haven’t seen in a number of months or years, climbing the steep Via Marina road leading into the city that widens into the city as you arrive at the forum. Turn left and it’s the backdrop to the Capitoline Triad temple remains: Mt Vesuvius, the volcano that catastrophically destroyed and preserved the Roman city, a small town that wasn’t of particular great importance in the Roman Empire. The violent eruption of AD 79 had a myriad of consequences, covering the city in several metres of ash and pumice after a 24 hour long bombardment and killing those who had not escaped the city and burying the contents of their homes, businesses, religious sites and theatres entirely.

Nearly two thousand years later the city was ‘rediscovered’ (although it had never properly been lost) under the Bourbon rulers of Naples in 1748. Ten years earlier the ancient city of Herculaneum had been found and the fever of antiquarianism was rising. Excavation revealed surprisingly familiar aspects of an ancient civilisation: statuary, belongings, homes, and so on. Despite early use of backfilling, a practice in which materials excavated, such as soil, are returned to the opened areas, Pompeii eventually became the open air museum that we understand it as today. But don’t be fooled. This isn’t a city frozen in time. Since Day 1 of its burial the site has been subject to a slow, natural decomposition in addition to destruction carried out by humans, both in antiquity and from 1748 onwards.

My research, mostly carried out as part of a PhD degree, focuses upon the lesser studied shops and workshops, also known as tabernae, which fronted many of the homes along major arteries in the city. These small structures are important because they tell us about what everyday life was like for non-elite Romans, slaves and freedmen (ex-slaves) in terms of where they worked, their trades and crafts, their eating and drinking habits, and, in a few cases, where they may have lived. An insight into Roman shops at Pompeii provides an understanding of population, society, culture, urban planning, trade, and commerce. It also tells us quite a lot about the impact of war and Roman colonisation, slavery, migration, patronage, art, neighbourhood development and industrialisation across the city.

 

A bakery retrofitted into a two storey house (8.4.27), left, and a shop for bread (8.4.26), right. Another shop (8.4.25), far right. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016.

A bakery retrofitted into a two storey house (8.4.27), left, and a shop for bread (8.4.26), right. Another shop (8.4.25), far right. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016.

In light of city’s size, I have chosen to work in a quarter known today as Region 8, just south of the forum and Via dell’Abbondanza, close to the two theatres of the Entertainment District, and bordered by the city wall and the Porta Marina and Porta Stabia gates. Most tourists to the city will walk by my shops without noticing their presence or their importance to the city, although they might notice the shops with counters looking like taverns. The majority of the 93 shops in this area are small structures under four rooms in total. Some are directly connected to the elite houses (popularly known as villas, but correctly identified as domus) that were owned by families of local political importance who also maintained commercial interests, which is in contrast to incorrect 19th & 20th century views that Roman elites avoided direct trade and monetary dealings.

One particular aspect of shops is a favourite of mine: the architecture. Quite a lot of my time is spent at my desk in England analysing field research carried out site and the architecture is often the most revealing because 18th & 19th century excavation records rarely include recordings of finds from the shops despite being rich sources of materials and decorated buildings in their own right. Archaeologists often refer to this type of analysis as non-invasive research’ because it doesn’t require further excavation and damage to ancient structures and landscapes. Pompeii is an excellent site to carry out this type of approach because the wealth of material and speed of early excavations means that much remains to be interpreted from exposed buildings and their contents. It is quite a lot like putting a massive puzzle back together when you don’t have an entire understanding of what that puzzle is meant to be.

To keep track of the extensive number of photographs, plans, archival records and my own analysis findings I developed a digital database (along with some generous assistance from Derek Littlewood, @eggboxderek). I love reading the walls for the information that they provide, with or without their finished decoration, revealing building phases and additions, and most importantly telling archaeologists about reconstruction following the seismic activity, including earthquakes, leading up to the fatal eruption in AD 79. Even details such as the simple thresholds set within shop doorways are thrilling: I can understand how and when these doorways and their doors operated, learn about Roman carpentry and locks and take part in scholarly debates around differences between mezzanines and upper floors and why their different terminology and definitions affect their use.

 

Database, Tabernae of Roman Pompeii. A working example. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016. No use without permission.

Database record for 8.4.27, The tabernae of Roman Pompeii: shops & workshops of Region VIII. A working example. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016. No use without permission.

And while my PhD research isn’t a group project, I depend on the regular exchanges of ideas and discussion of new developments at Pompeii with a number of other researchers. Some of the especially important individuals, projects, and publications, that have impacted my area of research in the recent past include Dr Joanne Berry, Drs Steven Ellis and Eric Poehler of the Pompeii Archaeological Research Project: Porta Stabia, Dr Sophie Hay (@pompei79), and many, many others.

Sera Baker is currently completing a PhD at The University of Nottingham, UK. She enjoys discussing Roman archaeology on her Twitter feed, @seraecbaker. To learn more about Pompeii take a look at the official archaeological website from the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Pompei, Ercolano e Stabia (English & Italian; for most complete information use the Italian site).

Folders of secrets: the SITAR Project.

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We work at the SITAR, the innovative project of the Archaeological Superintendndence of Rome (today called Soprintendenza Speciale per il Colosseo, il Museo Nazionale Romano e l’Area Archeologica di Roma), born in 2007 and that aim at the complete digitization and systematization in a GIS environment of all the archaeological documentation related to the surveys and excavations carried out in Rome from the end of XIX century to present. The work to do is hard and it’s too much for one person, for this reason we are a team of ten archaeologists. What expect us is an huge work, sometimes dusty for sure! We explore forgotten angles of famous palaces of Rome and their subterraneans to collect old and precious documents. 

At first we have to go physically in the archives to collect paper documentation. What you don’t expect is that the archives could be such as astonishing places as the one at the Terme di Diocleziano, or really full of stuff as the one of Palazzo Massimo, but in any case the satisfaction to open folders and find in them archaeological documents from the end of the XIX century is really great, we feel like the explorers of the past. Not all the archives are “user friendly”, and not every documentation is complete or in agreement with actual archaeological common standards, but we believe in this work and we consider this like a real archaeological excavation. After all we are archaeologists and put in order things from the past is part of our mission.

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The second step consists in an office data entry work to digitize and systematize the archaeological dataset: acquire by scanner, georeference and digitize plans, extract the data related to the surveys and to the archaeological evidences, and so on. Today the Archaeology is also all of this, not only excavation or pure research, as a lot of post of Day of Archaeologist says. Archaeology is also putting in order data, thinking and planning new ways to achieve the “migration of the century”, from data archived in a physical or old way (just think about floppy!) towards actual digital shapes and, most of all, make the data accessible for everyone not only for specialists. In fact, just from its birth, one of the most important goal of the SITAR is to make this impressive dataset public and searchable. All our work flow into the web platform of the project where it is possible to explore the archaeology of Rome, through a map of the city populated with the representation of the heritage, well known or unknown, discovered by the archaeologists who have worked in the Eternal City. And just to improve the public interest and participation, we are planning new ways for the dissemination and accessibility of the project so…enjoy and follow us!

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ADS at the Center for Digital Heritage Summer School

 

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Today I am at the Centre for Digital Heritage Summer School (CDH). It’s the second day of a training workshop hosted by the University of York and organised by Gareth Beale. The summer school was  designed to help newcomers from any discipline learn the essential skills needed to build and run a successful digital heritage project; from getting the funding to archiving your data.

The day began with excellent talks from Kate Giles (Archaeology; University of York) and Damian Murphy (Electronics; University of York) on their own Digital Heritage projects.

I was there to present with my colleague Catherine Hardman the work of the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) and to impart to the attendees the experiences ADS has gathered from over 15 years of curating digital material. The aim of our talk was to explore real world examples of Digital Heritage projects, highlighting the practical pitfalls of creating, managing, curating, and using digital data, by comparing successful data management examples with flawed projects. We covered everything from projects with amazingly detailed metadata, through to those with ‘dirty’ data to photos of cats in tents!

We hope that after spending two days of hearing how Data Management Planning is KEY to a successful digital heritage project, that all the attendees will go on to create excellently managed digital heritage projects.

The rest of the day was dedicated to designing prospective digital heritage projects. Check out Hannah Simons Day of Archaeology blog post to read more about the excellent project ideas that were developed (including some great pics).

All the attendees of the summer school really got involved and without the excellent enthusiasm of the attendees the summer school wouldn’t have been the great success it was, so a big thanks go out to everyone involved and to Gareth for organising a great 2 days.

Adventures in Digital Archaeology & Open Access Antiquarianism

Ashley M. Richter in front of one of the UCSD Calit2 visualization walls and my layered realities conceptual graphic for digital archaeological technology development and use.

Ashley M. Richter in front of one of the UCSD Calit2 visualization walls and my layered realities conceptual graphic for digital archaeological technology development and use.

It’s funny how quickly time passes while studying time.

Two years ago, this weekend was spent with a laser scanner at the beach.

I’d finagled a mini-grant from the National Science Foundation for a project I like to call Sandcastles for Science, but whose full un-pronouncable name identified it as a project to test out laser scanning capabilities for handling the imaging resolutions of stratigraphic sediment on archaeological sites (see– even that was a mouthful).

As a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego, the beach was the nearest easy access place to play in the dirt and provided a perfect venue to open up the experiment to local kids and un-suspecting beach-goers who accidentally volunteered themselves for mini-science bootcamp. Willing audiences who would build me data castles, while my research assistant and I exposed them to archaeology, beach physics, the history of castles, laser scanning, sea-shell collecting, and all the other educational topics we could cram into our construction schpeals and posterboards. I like archaeological education outreach, so sue me. It gets written into almost every one of my projects somehow.

Sandcastles for Science was ultimately prep-work for a two month field season in Jordan, laser scanning sites in Faynan (and yes, even scanning Petra for one glorious day), as well as for a lovely bit of software development on visualizing temporal sequences in point clouds with one of my fabulous computer science colleagues.

The Leica Scanstation looming over its sandcastle victim at the beach.

The Leica Scanstation looming over its sandcastle victim at the beach.

Last year, this weekend was spent in a frenzy of data digging and labwork

My team needed to pull together presentations for Italian officials to approve the Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture, and Archaeology’s upcoming field season at Palazzo Vecchio and the Baptistery of St. John in Florence, and a bevy of lovely sites in southern Italy with a team from the University of Calabria.

So it was a weekend slogging through back-data of point clouds from the Hall of the 500 in Palazzo Vecchio, emphasizing the layered multi-spectral imaging into the model, and how it definitely showed the cracks conservators needed to track to create preservation solutions, and how it maybe had a hidden Da Vinci lurking behind one of its walls. It was a weekend of lists for the upcoming season, of site logistics, and Italian language lessons (team lessons with an instructor +  DuoLingo = a surprising amount of success once we hit Italy for the two month madcap field season that was my fall of 2013).

And if you’d like to check out more pics and details of my wonderful and ridiculous work for a once-promising academic something, scope out my scrapbook blog Adventures in Digital Archaeology.

The CISA3 diagnostics team at Palazzo Vecchio after successful conservation imaging.

The CISA3 diagnostics team at Palazzo Vecchio after successful conservation imaging.

The Faro Focus and I about to image the exterior of the Baptistery. Note that I literally only seem capable of this one jaunty pose with a laser scanner. I desperately need to start doing something different in field propaganda photos.

The Faro Focus and I about to image the exterior of the Baptistery. Note that I literally only seem capable of this one jaunty pose with a laser scanner. I desperately need to start doing something different in field propaganda photos.

But this year, this year was spent online- in a flurry of creative archaeological energy

This summer, I find myself graduated and out on my own, free to pursue my own projects, safely away from the boundary lines of academia and the rather unhealthy environment I had found myself in for a big chunk of this year.

Pulling ourselves back together, my favorite research colleague Vid and I cooked up a delightful dish that brings together all the digital archaeology flavors we’d been prepping before, but as part of a much grander and more colorful feast.

And so this weekend was spent running down the final lists of photographs, video media, and writing that needed to coalesce together into the FIRST archaeological technology driven Kickstarter.

Mushing together the laser scanning, point clouds, 3D models, and 3D printing,our project, Open Access Antiquarianism, proposes the construction of art exhibit built from re-purposed cultural heritage data using the digital visualization pipelines my colleague and I have been building to handle archaeological data.

A blend of 3D printed archaeological artifacts, furniture upholstered in fabric printed with archaeological LiDAR (literal armchair archaeology), interactive point cloud visualizations and other such extravagant re-workings of scientific data from open archives, the Cabinet of Curiosities Open Access Antiquarianism proposes offers an excellent opportunity to continue streamlining the point cloud and 3D modelling methodologies we’d been playing with for so long, while reaching a much much larger audience.

Because the larger global community needs to be engaged in the increasingly complicated discussions regarding ethical implementations of digitization and open access of tangible and intangible cultural heritage. The public (and archaeologists themselves) need to understand the desperate desperate need for interdisciplinary and collaborative work and move away from the academic politics and needless power-plays that constantly bog such wonderful creative enterprises down. Archaeologists need to work more closely with technologists and engineers to develop useful and adaptable systems that preserve the past for the future (and often simultaneously end up building the surveying systems needed for the space-age future we all envision).

And the public needs to be aware of the wealth of data that is available to them in the increasingly larger and more wonderful online archives of museums and government institutions all over the world. The past has the potential to become increasingly and excitingly ubiquitous and something that plays a much stronger role in one’s everyday conception of time and space. It’s getting all wibbly wobbly timey wimey and the doctors of archaeology ought to be actively on the hunt for more and more Companions. Studying the past is no longer something that need be done by experts alone. In fact, we are drowning under such an avalanche of data, that it is imperative that more crowd-sourced archaeological ventures be launched to bear the brunt of analyzing everything that is already stacked up in the university basements of the world, let alone the incoming finds. Archaeologists can stay experts, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to talk to the public and engage them more actively in what we’re up to. Enthusiasm should count more than correct use of erudite jargon. Even to those hipster archaeologists out there.

In some small artistic way, the Open Access Antiquarianism project would like to address all of these things, while expanding the research and technological collaborative possibilities to continue refining the much needed digital pipeline that takes things from the field through processing, archiving, studying, and out to engagement.

My collaborative and interdisciplinary digital archaeology and outreach isn’t the traditional archaeology. But its my archaeology. And more than that, its an archaeological practice of hope. Hope that archaeology will fully embrace the increasingly digitized and interdisciplinary future. Hope that archaeology will not fall prey to over-specialization and tenure. Hope that archaeologists will continue to try to document and in some small way understand the past, so that we can help make vital statistically based decisions for the future. Archaeology has such potential to aid technology development and global ecological policy, if only us archaeologists would reach out and grasp it instead of assuming it will fall into our laps.

If you’re intrigued/dismayed/excited/furious/amused or any one of the wonderful and ridiculous emotions human beings are capable of, please check out Open Access Antiquarianism on kickstarter and on Facebook.  We’d love your support, and if you love our concepts about tech development, archaeology, and art as a research and outreach driver, perhaps your collaboration as well. Get in touch!

To the erudite young men and women a-sitting on a-tell: may your trowels be ever muddy and your point clouds free of shadows.

Acres and acres of happy wishes to all the archaeologists of the world,

Ashley M. Richter

One of the Open Access Antiquarianism Medaillions we've designed as part of the Kickstarter reward campaign.

One of the Open Access Antiquarianism Medaillions we’ve designed as part of the Kickstarter reward campaign.


Digital Heritage Summer School

Today in the lovely historic city of York a group of professionals and students from a wide range of disciplines have gathered for the second day of a Digital Heritage Summer School, organised by Gareth Beale from the Centre for Digital Heritage at the University of York. I am a PhD Student in the Department of Archaeology at York and decided to attend the conference to find out what digital heritage was, what methods it uses and what impact it can have outside the academic world.

 

Groups get creative with digital heritage project design

Time to get creative with digital heritage project design. Felt tip pens and glue sticks at the ready.

 

This morning we were inspired by listening to case studies of successful Digital Heritage projects run by Kate Giles (Archaeology; University of York) and Damian Murphy (Electronics; University of York) whose audio projects really got people talking over the lunch break. After lunch and fuelled by a steady supply of tea and biscuits 3 groups of intrepid students set about designing their own prospective digital heritage projects.

Brainstorming ideas

Brainstorming ideas

 

The groups encompassed students studying; literature, film, archives, archaeobotany, history, heritage and archaeology. Through the workshop we hope to build ideas for digital heritage projects that link across disciplines and create outputs that have a broad reach.

These are the 3 final project ideas;

1)  This project would take records, such as plans and 3D scans, of historic buildings, ruins and archaeological sites translate them into a format that would make it easy for users of Minecraft to use the measurements to reconstruct these structures in the game. Minecraft users could follow plans or add their own interpretation of how the structures would have looked, other gamers could then virtually visit these structures and experience these sites.

A visual representation of the path from archaeological data to Minecraft to happiness.

A visual representation of the path from archaeological data to Minecraft and ultimately to happiness!!

 

 

2) A digital interface on which to explore the transition from the use of handwriting to print; exploring manuscripts, charters and historic printing presses. An interactive website would be built with games where you can digitally trace over calligraphy or ‘print’ with movable blocks.

Exploring the common ground between librarians, historians and archaeologists.

Exploring the common ground between librarians, historians and archaeologists.

 

3) This project explores the perceived heritage and cultural identity of British people who now live overseas. The project would create a platform for crowd sourcing images, videos, and audio from people who want to share their notions of identity and their experiences of Nationality as a someone living overseas.

Migration heritage

Migration heritage

 

The day was very inspiring and got me thinking about the different ways in which we record, store and encourage access to the data we collect as archaeologists. Digital methods can really open up that data and enable a wider audience to reach it which in turn could generate further interest in archaeology- something to aim for!

 

Digital heritage projects = Archaeology yay!

Digital heritage projects = Archaeology yay!

Thanks to the organisers and it was great to meet everyone who attended.

 

Hannah Simons