eScience team collaboration on Via Appia point cloud

January 28th, 2015

Last week NLeSC´s complete team of eScience Research Engineers, together with archaeologists and historians of the Via Appia project, collaborated for three consecutive days to build a point cloud 3D Geographic Information System for the archaeological study area between the 5th and 6th mile of the Via Appia in Rome. The Via Appia was one of the earliest (i.e. 312 BC) and strategically most important roads of the Roman world. A 3D GIS will allow archaeologists to reconstruct historical objects and their relationship to past landscapes.

Tim Pijls and Joey van Kuijck, two history students working on the Via Appia project, explain how archaeological research will benefit from a 3D GIS.

We can rebuild a little part of antiquity through which we can answer more social related questions

Joey: “A 3D GIS gives us a precise view of the locations of objects and the kinds of building materials used. This kind of information can help us to make hypothetical reconstructions of the architecture that was constructed along the road in antiquity. We can rebuild a little part of antiquity through which we can answer more social related questions.”

“To create a 3D GIS, you need experts with technical knowledge. The first thing that I noticed was that everybody here is enthusiastic about the project, which creates a nice working climate. Normally an archaeologist has to wait for tools to be developed in other disciplines, and then he or she can use it for scientific archaeological research. Now the situation is different. Archaeologists can explain their research questions and the eScience Research Engineers at NLeSC can help developing the digital technology necessary to answer the questions. This brings scientific disciplines together and creates applications which normally could not be built in archaeology.”

Tim: “The sessions at the eScience center gave me an insight into how the software behind the project works and what is possible with the software in the end. This insight thus gave me a better vision on how I could conduct a form of research with the tools. I think the tools produced at the eScience center could add a lot to modern archaeological research, with the possibility to use it for more purposes then the Via Appia project alone once the software is completed and ready to be used by a big audience.”

I think the tools produced at the eScience center could add a lot to modern archaeological research

Image: The archaeological study area between the 5th and 6th mile of the Via Appia in Rome

Image: Performing measurements in the visualization tool for the Via Appia point cloud

The three days intense collaboration was a team building effort, as well as a way to increase the engineers’ expertise on point clouds. Recognizing the research value and importance of point clouds, NLeSC has funded and is a partner in several projects related to point cloud data and their usage in science and society. Working together in small teams provided a unique opportunity to explore the possibilities and challenges, research- and technology-wise, of creating point clouds; from raw data management to advanced visualization and analytics.

The NWO funded Mapping the Via Appia project is led by the Radboud University Nijmegen. The project aims at a thorough inventory and analysis of the Roman interventions in their suburban landscape, the reuse of this landscape after antiquity, and the possibilities for future landscape developments. In order to gain insight into the spatial development and impact in different periods of the Via Appia itself, the surrounding monuments, and the outlying areas, the project needs a sophisticated geographic information system in which the researchers can store, share, analyse, and present their research results. The character of the study area has led the research team to develop a 3D GIS. The 3D GIS part of Mapping the Via Appia is taken on by SPINlab, the Spatial Information Laboratory of the VU University Amsterdam in close collaboration with the Netherlands eScience Center. 

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