USF researchers use 3D technology to explore an ancient Greek city in Sicily

Thanks to the interdisciplinary work of a team of USF scientists, the ancient Greek city of Heloros, Sicily, is now being studied with the most advanced digital technologies. The team has identified additional structural details of the city, which dates to the eighth century BC, and is now able to reveal a fuller picture of its layout. The visualizations recorded during the study will soon be shared with the public via immersive virtual reality. The project is a multi-year collaboration between USF’s Institute for Digital Exploration (IDEx) and the Archaeological and Environmental Park of Syracuse, Eloro, Villa del Tellaro, and Akrai.

The fieldwork began last year and was designed by Davide Tanasi, professor of digital humanities at the College of Arts and Sciences and director of IDEx. Tanasi is an internationally renowned archaeologist, known for discovering the chemical signatures of the oldest wines and olive oils in European and Mediterranean history and the genomic study of trench fever in Roman times.

This summer, Tanasi led a group of five USF graduate students from the History Department and a team of archaeologists, computer scientists, and geophysicists to conduct a preliminary integrated analysis. So far, they have identified previously unknown parts of the urban layout of Heloros, which now shows new houses, roads and public buildings.

The IDEx team worked simultaneously across multiple time zones with members responsible for the site’s 3D scanning, sharing field data with their team working at the IDEx lab in Tampa.

“The local team pre-processed the raw 3D data and sent it back to us with comments and instructions to proceed. It’s a kind of ‘hybrid fieldwork’, where we streamed live from site and held many team meetings,” said Tanasi.

The field team used state-of-the-art 3D scanning techniques and spatial analysis methods combined with geophysical surveys to map parts of the site discovered long ago that have never been fully investigated. The rest of the city is still underground.

“The high-resolution 3D models generated will be used to monitor site conditions over time,” Tanasi said. “We will also be able to test research hypotheses in a virtual environment and promote this important archaeological site to the general public online.

In addition, the meticulous collection and production of high-resolution data conducted by the IDEx team will facilitate future archaeological excavations. They will spend the fall processing all of the data collected from laser scanning and ground penetrating radar and posting the 3D models and GIS visualizations online when complete. The virtual reconstructions will also combine data acquired by traditional topographic methods to extend previous archaeological maps of the sites.

The ancient Greek city of Heloros is estimated to cover an area of ​​20 acres and so far about 5% of it has been discovered. USF scientists plan to complete the digital digitization and mapping of the entire city’s subsoil next year and begin traditional archaeological excavations in 2024. Their findings will potentially rewrite the history of Greek Sicily.

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