April 10, 2013
by Dragana Mladenovic
Check out the Portus Head on the cover of Archaeology Abroad!
The Field School is featured on page 99 and application is still open!
Workshop: Architectural Reconstructions at Portus 04.03.2013 - 04.03.2013
The Portus Project is organising a workshop to update colleagues on progress in recording and modelling the buildings from Portus. The day will begin with discussions of progress and continue with detailed analysis of each reconstructed element, and the data and interpretations underlying it.
9:00 Simon Keay – The Excavation of the Palazzo Imperiale and Navalia
9:30 Graeme Earl – Computing Strategy at Portus
9:45 Penny Copeland – From Excavation to Archive: Plans and Elevations
9:55 James Miles – Scanning the Palazzo Imperiale
10:05 Grant Cox – CGI Modelling of the Palazzo Imperiale and Navalia (Phases 2 and 3)
10:50 James Miles – Structural Modelling
11:05 Christina Triantafillou – Architectural Considerations
11:20 Simon Keay – General Conclusion on the Character of the Buildings
11:25 Discussion – The Palazzo Imperiale and the Navalia
The primary aim of this workshop is to present new evidence for the date, construction process and architectural conception of the Trajanic harbour at Portus. The evidence to be presented will include a synthesis of our current understanding of the complex, as well as brick stamps and construction techniques for three key buildings at the heart of the port, and a new analysis and interpretation of the Trajanic PORTVM sestertii. The secondary aim is to place these advances in the broader context of contemporary building initiatives at Ostia and Rome, with a view to better understanding the significance of Trajanic building at Portus. In particular, attention will focus upon the river port at Lungotevere Testaccio, the Foro di Traiano, Mercati Traianei and the Terme di Traiano.
9:00-9:10 – Christopher Smith: Welcome address
9:10-9:20 – Angelo Pellegrino: Introductory remarks
9:20-9:30 – Simon Keay: Introduction to workshop
9:30-9:50 – Simon Keay: The Port System of Imperial Rome
9:50-10:10 – Edoardo Scazzocchio e Fabrizio Felici: I bolli laterizi di Portus nel quadro delle datazioni delle strutture murarie
10:10-10:30 – Evelyne Bukowiecki: I Grandi Magazzini così detti … e così poco traianei di Portus
10:30-10:50 – Christina Triantafillou: The Palazzo Imperiale and Building 5: construction techniques and timelines
10:50-11:10 – Roberta Cascino, Fabrizio Felici e Sabrina Zampini: I contesti ceramici Traianei del Palazzo Imperiale di Porto (2007-2011)
11:10-11:30 – Coffee
11:30-11:50 – Bernhard Woytek: The PORTVM TRAIANI sestertii
11:50-12:10 – Simon Keay: An archaeological reading of the PORTVM TRAIANI sestertii
12:10-12:30 – Janet DeLaine: Trajanic brick stamps from Ostia and Castelporziano
12:30-12:50 – Elisabetta Bianchi: Produzione laterizia destinata ai grandi complessi imperiali di Roma in età traianea
12:50-13:00 – Questions
13:00-14:00 – Lunch
14:00-14:20 – Paola di Manzano: Evidenze traianee al Porto di Roma
14:20-14:40 – Renato Sebastiani: Interventi edilizi di età Traianea a Testaccio: il caso del Nuovo Mercato attraverso il contributo dei dati ceramici e dei bolli laterizi
14:40-15:00 – Lucrezia Ungaro: La fabbrica dei Mercati di Traiano: il progetto architettonico, la struttura edilizia, le caratteristiche dei materiali costitutivi (impiego delle cortine laterizie e del calcestruzzo)
15:00-15:20 – Massimo Vitti: Il sistema voltato dei Mercati di Traiano: antecedenti ed evoluzione
15:20-15:40 – Roberto Meneghini: Il Foro di Traiano: tecnica edilizia e tempistica di cantiere
15:40-16:00 – Rita Volpe: Strutture murarie e modalità di costruzione delle Terme di Traiano sul Colle Oppio
16:00-16:20 – Tea
16:20-16:40 – Filippo Coarelli: Edilizia nell’amministrazione pubblica di Roma nell’epoca di Traiano
16:40-18:00 – Discussion
December 9, 2012
by Graeme Earl
Why produce computer models?
We have been producing computer graphic representations as part of our work at Portus since 2007. These are used for a number of purposes. Firstly, they help us to bring together all the many forms of digital data gathered on site, through survey, geophysics, photogrammetry, laser scanning and other tools. For example, we are combining three-dimensional geophysics with laser scans and excavated sections to understand the development of the Building 5. In the documentary Rome’s Lost Empire, this has been interpreted as a building to house warships, even though there remain interpretative issues to resolve. The ground between the building and the water is more likely to have been sloped than raised as shown in the programme, thus making it possible for vessels to move in and out of the water.
Computer graphics also help us to develop our interpretations of the archaeological data we recover. For example, at the corner of the surviving cistern complex (Palazzo Imperiale II) graphical simulation has helped us to understand how water may have been transported from one harbour building to another. The overview model of the site shown in the documentary is helping us to understand how the different parts of the site were inter-connected. It is an artistic interpretation based upon known archaeological data by the BBC graphic artists, with input from us.
A third use of the three-dimensional computer models has been to undertake formal analyses of different aspects of buildings at the site. For example, we have examined the lighting levels in buildings and considered how this might have affected their uses.
Finally, still, animated and interactive computer graphics are enabling the project to communicate its interpretations widely. In addition to creating these visuals ourselves, and working with experts like the BBC, we are interested in the role that computer graphic visuals play in a wider understanding of the site.
Models produced for Rome’s Lost Empire
In the year leading up to the broadcast of Rome’s Lost Empire the Portus Project team worked closely with the documentary team. In particular Simon Keay discussed many drafts of all of the models with the production team. We were particularly keen that existing knowledge of the site, which has been known since the 16th century, and our own impressions of how it once may have looked, could be translated to a wide audience. We had produced a series of visualisations of the site in the very first work on site funded by the AHRC. Whilst these now look very dated they demonstrated to us that modelling did not just help to express what we were thinking, but actually helped us to develop new ideas.
This impression has remained with us and in 2009, when we excavated part of the Imperial Palace (Palazzo Imperiale) and tried to make sense of the complex archaeological remains, modelling whilst on site gave us the opportunity to experiment with buildings, views, functions and so on, almost immediately after every new piece of archaeological information was recorded. We have continued to use modelling in our interpretations, including the simulations produced of the cistern blocks to the north of the Palazzo Imperiale.
The western frontage of the Imperial Palace was an imposing sight as ships first entered the inner harbour at Portus. We have produced a number of representations of this in recent years and provided the BBC with these models. They further developed them with input from Simon Keay and Janet Delaine (University of Oxford), drawing upon known contemporary buildings and materials at Rome, but in the end the programme didn’t include them. The BBC provided us with their models, however, and we have carried on working with them, producing work such as the visualisation above. Below you can see an early version of this same building that we produced as part of an animation by Gareth Beale (ACRG) in 2009.
Since then we have done a lot of work in trying to understand the structural properties of buildings such as this and the likely materials used in its construction and decoration. For example, we have tried methods such as Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) to produce records of the subtle surface properties that define the appearance of these buildings and the objects originally contained within them. Below you can see one example of this where the imaging technique helped in the identification of a brick stamp.
Elsewhere in the documentary there are other models that reflect the sense of our ongoing interpretations. For example, we believe that Building 5 housed ships of some kind as we have recently argued in a scientific paper, even though some interpretational issues remain. In the documentary, however, the structure is shown housing ships even though the ground in front of it has been left level rather sloped, since this is an unresolved issue which we are addressing in ongoing work. We have produced a great many models of this particular area, one of which is shown in the page about building 5. Below you can see a still from the Rome’s Lost Empire documentary which gives a sense of the sheer scale of the structure, measuring c 240m by 60m. However the structural remains of this building might be interpreted, this was a colossal feat of engineering.
The simulation of building 5 was a multi-stage process. Firstly, as with other parts of the site we conducted a detailed geophysical survey of the area. By using three-dimensional geophysical techniques such as ground-penetrating radar and electrical resistance tomography we were able to build up hypotheses of the layout of the building.
This, coupled with excavation, gave us a sense of the physical properties of the building. The excavated remains have been recorded in part via laser scanning – a method that provides a rapid, very detailed three-dimensional record of the archaeology. (You can read a recent blog post about our latest laser scanning work inside the Imperial Palace here).
This detailed information can then be fed into the kind of software usually used by architects and engineers to design buildings. We use them to test the physical properties of hypothetical structures.
Having examined the physical properties of the potential structures we use this information to feed into an approach known as procedural modelling. This software technique allows computer models to be generated automatically on the basis of inputs such as the likely forms proposed by the structural analysis, the forms of similar Roman buildings, and our interpretations of the most likely functions of the building.
We have so far produced more than a hundred versions of the building automatically in this way, and used these to inform our preferred option for the BBC to work with. As television makes it difficult to present a great many hypotheses we felt that this approach gave the single representation chosen the most weight. The computer cannot replace the knowledge of Roman archaeological and architectural specialists but it can provide a means to make this form of scholarship visible, and produce models upon which to base further interpretations.
Below you can see another view of the results of this modelling, further developed by visualisation experts at the BBC for the documentary. It only lasts a few seconds on screen but represents months of hard, and fun, work by dozens of archaeologists on the Portus Project. I hope that if you saw it you really enjoyed the programme!
I’ll leave this post with the pharos, or lighthouse. In our own modelling work we had never attempted to visualise this enormous structure, except in a schematic way at the very start of the project. We have produced models of the much smaller lighthouse at the entrance to the inner harbour, which was based on similar comparative evidence – some surviving remains at Portus and elsewhere, and Roman visual representations of lighthouses. The Pharos as modelled and animated by the BBC is based upon representations recorded on mosaics and carvings at Ostia and Rome, and what is known of the Roman lighthouse at Lepcis Magna and the great Pharos of Alexandria. It demonstrates what I have always thought was one of the key things in archaeological visualisation. For all the hard work and scholarship in interpreting the past, for all the analysis and simulation and development of scientific hypotheses, archaeology remains a creative and emotional process. Travelling back in time, albeit via a computer model, is a way to think about our modern world of course. But it is also nice sometimes to get lost in a different world – and the Pharos visualisation does that perfectly.
If you would like to learn more about our modelling work at Portus and indeed any other aspect of the project sign up to our newsletter.
If you would like to learn the skills that were employed by our CGI archaeology experts at Portus then you can study on the course that they did – the MSc in Archaeological Computing (Virtual Pasts).
December 7, 2012
by Simon Keay
I have just been down to Portus today to discuss plans for resuming our joint excavation at the Palazzo Imperiale with the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma (Ostia Antica) in January. I hope that the results from this coupled with the screening of the BBC1 programme Rome’s Lost Empire on Sunday will remind people of the importance and richness of this unique site. Filming with Sarah, Dan, Jeff and Louise was a great experience and I am sure that their great professionalism will come across well.
Being involved in the film has reinforced my belief that as archaeologists we have a responsibility to do the best we can in getting across to the general public what it is that we do and how it changes the way we look at the past. I am also very much looking forward to be being able to welcome a new batch of students from the University of Southampton and partner institutions to the Portus field school that we are planning to run at the site for the first time in June and July of next year. It marks another stage in our ongoing research at the site.
November 29, 2012
by Graeme Earl
A documentary called Rome’s Lost Empire featuring our work at Portus funded by the AHRC and the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma (Ostia Antica) was broadcast on BBC One in the UK at 8:40 pm on Sunday 9th December 2012.
You can watch it now on BBC iPlayer from within the UK.
If you are interested in behind the scenes information on the computer graphics on the programme and how it benefits our research read the Reconstructing Portus – Rome’s Lost Empire post.
You can find out further details on the main BBC website. Members of the Portus team tweeted during the broadcast using #portusproject and #RomesLostEmpire. You can keep up to date on developments at Portus and in our other research by following @ArchCRG
You can also watch the latest trail featuring Dan Snow in the video at the bottom of this page.
- News release describing the Portus story
- Our undergraduate and postgraduate students get involved in Portus each year. If you would like to learn more about studying at Southampton visit our archaeology department website.
- The Portus project is using ChronoZoom, from Microsoft Research, to allow visitors to travel through time and find out more about Portus. ChronoZoom brings Big History to life, from the Big Bang to the present day, all through your web browser. Explore Portus in ChronoZoom now Learn more about the collaboration on our chronozoom blog post.
- Learn about the other archaeological computing research and teaching in the Archaeological Computing Research Group (ACRG) at the University of Southampton. Become a “space archaeologist” yourself!
- Behind the scenes details of the CGI work.
- See how we are going to provide virtual fieldwork experiences of Portus for disabled students and others with limited access to the site
- Lots more exciting projects relating to ports and the maritime past can be discovered at the University of Southampton Centre for Maritime Archaeology (CMA).
- There is another preview of the programme on the BBC Video For Learning website.
November 28, 2012
by Graeme Earl
Forma Urbis, the Italian archaeological magazine, has been entirely devoted to the the work and research of the BSR in its November 2012 issue. Portus is one of several projects featured.
October 31, 2012
by Graeme Earl
We have been awarded funding from a Student Centredness fund grant to create a unique field school at Portus that will provide the context for novel learning experiences to students from across the University, including an on-line infrastructure to build a community around a period of archaeological fieldwork in Italy. It will also benefit from a related SC project aimed at providing virtual access to the Portus fieldwork experience.
The field school will eventually host a Curriculum Innovation Programme module, Southampton archaeology UG student field training, MSc Archaeological Survey and Landscape students, and overseas students from archaeology, anthropology and related disciplines. In addition UG, PGI and PGR students from across the University will be encouraged to participate. The Portus multi-disciplinary field school will provide the opportunity for a new educational experience open to all students at the University, by offering hands-on, team-focused training in a variety of techniques used in modern archaeological fieldwork. The students will be exposed to techniques belonging to different scientific disciplines (including computing, geology, geophysics, biology), and research methods of social and human sciences (including history, classics, history of art), and will grow as interdisciplinary scholars and mediators – crucial skills in the modern world.
October 29, 2012
by Gareth Beale
Photography has been extremely important to the Portus Project. The photographic record which has been created as we have been working on the site allows us to re-visit and interpret the excavations at many levels. As well as a vast archive of photographs depicting excavated contexts, sections and objects we also have a substantial collection of images which depict the day to day life of an archaeological excavation.
As part of our October 2012 season at Portus we have been supplementing and expanding this photographic record. As well as conventional photographs we have been using a Gigapan robotic tripod head to capture panoramic views of the site and the excavations. Once processed, these images will allow the archaeological area to be interactively explored by users who will be able to navigate these 3D panoramas. Extremely high resolution images captured at up to 24 megapixels using a Nikon D3X will allow viewers to focus in on the areas and details of the excavation which interest them. This may be a recently excavated building, a wonderfully preserved Trajanic harbour frontage or the tools of the archaeologists or conservators working on site.
October 28, 2012
by James Miles
In the past week myself and Gareth Beale have spent time capturing the subterranean areas of the Imperial Palace at Portus. We have been trialing the use of the Leica Scan Station C10 for archaeological documentation and the results so far appear very impressive.
All archaeological remains are subject to constant deterioration, this is especially true of substantial architectural remains such as the Imperial Palace. As well as suffering from the usual effects of weathering and exposure, large structures are also subject to additional stresses caused by their weight and the age and degradation of building materials. These stresses can be compounded through excavation and as such the use of 3D recording techniques can provide a valuable record of structural remains for further analysis and virtual conservation.
The use of a time of flight laser scanner such as the C10 allows us to record large areas of architecture quickly and at very high resolution. We have been recording the exposed areas of the Imperial Palace at 1cm resolution providing a record of the current form which will be of use to archaeologists and conservators across the world, providing virtual access to the remains as they currently exist. In addition these data will also have a significant legacy providing a record which will doubtless be of great utility to researchers and cultural heritage professionals in the future.
Below are a few images which highlight the laser scanner in action and document the unique capabilities of laser scanning for working under circumstances which would prove challenging with traditional modes of archaeological recording.