Readers can virtually explore Italian archaeology dig in new online publication
A team of archaeologists has published its first volume about the Gabii Project, a large-scale dig of an ancient city in Italy, in a first-of-its-kind online format.
"This was a time when Romans were discovering themselves," said Nicola Terrenato, the Esther B. Van Deman Collegiate Professor of Roman Studies in the U-M Department of Classical Studies and leader of the Gabii Project. "This was before the Colosseum was built, a formative period when Roman people were figuring out what it's like to be rich and powerful."
In the new online publication by the University of Michigan Press, called A Mid-Republic House from Gabii, readers can wander through a 3-D rendering of the excavated layers as well as a reconstruction of an elite house within the city that the archaeologists have been excavating since 2009. Readers can pause over a representation of an archaeological feature, click on the image and read about how the archaeologists suspect it was used.
In addition to the virtual walk-through, the researchers catalogued every artefact lifted from the dig and entered them into an online database. Casual readers and researchers alike can access the database from within the publication and use information from it for their own research.
"It's not very common for archaeological projects to publish the entire excavation archive. In a traditional print book, you're talking about hundreds, if not thousands, of context sheets, forms and tables. Publishing all that would be absolutely daunting," Mogetta said. "This would be a great tool for a doctoral student writing a dissertation, say, on coinage in central Italy."
|Gabii Project field director Anna Gallone and managing director Marcello Mogetta uncover |
the remains of a lead coffin [Credit: University of Michigan]
"Typically, even in contemporary excavations, you might have to flip through a folder or a stack of 500 photographs to find the one you need," Terrenato said. "We've structured this archive so that you can search by keywords, and if a photograph shows two layers—a wall and the ground—the photo will appear in both records so that you always retrieve all the relevant images."
Going forward, Mogetta and Terrenato's team has three main research questions: to explore how Gabii became urbanized; to study when architecture started to become large scale; and to study how such an early city began to decay. Gabii provides a prime opportunity to study early urbanization because the city began dying as it became urbanized. Rome kept growing—and its growth literally covered the roots of its urbanization.
"Gabii was so close to Rome that eventually most of the well-off aristocrats moved to the capital—that's where big politics was happening," Mogetta said. "It was much better to build your home next to the Roman forum where all the political bickering was happening than stay at Gabii, but the end result was that progressively, what was once a sizeable town shrunk to the level of a village."
City dwellers started repurposing parts of the city, Mogetta says. Aristocratic houses became "shady, stinky, smelly" industrial buildings like laundry shops. Other parts of the site were completely razed in order to quarry volcanic stone from the city's bedrock to be used in Roman imperial architecture.
|A new online publication called A Mid-Republic House from Gabii allows readers |
to wander through the dig [Credit: University of Michigan]
The researchers' next volume in the Gabii publication will examine, among other finds, the elaborate burial of an apparently wealthy man. The man had been buried in a 700-pound sleeve of lead wrapped around his body, leading the archaeologists to dub the sarcophagus "the lead burrito."
Charles Watkinson, associate university librarian for publishing and director of the U-M Press, says the online publishing platform allows not only an immersive experience for the reader, but a faster way to publish research from archaeological digs.
"Digital technologies are being used by the University of Michigan to transform the way research in archaeology is done, and that includes how the work is published," Watkinson said.
"There have been concerns in the archeological community that delays in publishing the final results of big digs are too much of a negative factor in starting large excavations like ours," Mogetta said. "We're hoping this kind of publication will make the pipeline from excavation to final publication as streamlined as possible."
U-M will also maintain digital access to the book through the its library system, where researchers can access any piece of information associated with the dig through the publication's database—even handwritten notes. Terrenato said the online publication will also be safeguarded by the U-M libraries system which provides long-term preservation as well as access.
"This is about creating and distributing knowledge and being in the business of keeping it available, which is what libraries have been doing for the last three thousand years," Terrenato said.
Author: Morgan Sherburne | Source: University of Michigan [March 16, 2017]