Home Technology Lidar and Apple Pencil: this is how iPad Pro brings the excavations of Pompeii into the digital age

Lidar and Apple Pencil: this is how iPad Pro brings the excavations of Pompeii into the digital age

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Lidar and Apple Pencil: this is how iPad Pro brings the excavations of Pompeii into the digital age

In 2010, when the iPad was introduced, many wondered what it could really be for. Among them was Steven Ellis, director of archaeological excavations at Pompeii at the University of Cincinnati, who soon found an answer: he used the Apple tablet to digitize the excavation workflow. Space-saving, robust, with excellent autonomy, the iPad made it possible to immediately transform notes and surveys made every day into data, saving time and gaining precision. The story also pleased Steve Jobsand was published on the Apple website (today a podcast retraces the story).

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A long story

Twelve years later, an Ellis student is the protagonist of another turning point in the world of archeology. Summer after summer, Allison Emmerson returned to the Campania town buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD and built her career on a broader and more varied vision of Pompeii society. You have dug into the lives of artisans, traders, women, poor people and slaves, who did not have villas and statues to leave behind for history, but a few shards and a bit of rubbish.

Like this it was possible to know hitherto unknown sides of daily life in Pompeii, and discover, for example, that separate collection was already practiced two thousand years ago. But other important discoveries may be around the corner, as Emmerson and his team have introduced another major innovation in the way data is collected. they use some iPad Pros, which are not only an evolution of the first model twelve years ago, but also have two precious tools for archaeologists, the stylus and the Lidar scanner.

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“Archaeological excavation is a destructive process: once a place has been excavated, the work can no longer be repeated; so our primary concern is the accurate recording of all relevant data so that future researchers can, as it were, reconstruct the site, “explains Emmerson, who teaches at Tulane University in New Orleans.” The iPad Pro enables us to collect data faster, more accurately and more securely than any other tool and has the processing power to gather the information and present it in a way never seen before. “

Tools and objectives

For this year’s excavation, which lasted five weeks and named Pompeii Project I.14named after the building’s location on the city grid, Emmerson focused on a commercial building that could be a restaurant dating from the 2nd or 3rd century BC.His team includes faculty and students from schools from both sides of the Atlantic and is supported by a technology team led by Dr. Alex Elvis Badillo, digital archaeologist and associate professor at Indiana State University.

The technological goals of this summer’s mission were twofold: to implement a completely paperless workflow using a single device and to create an online database that would allow others to virtually “re-dig” the site. Badillo started with iPad Pro with Apple Pencil, and chose Esri’s suite of tools for creating and managing maps and surveys, as well as Concepts by TopHatch, a digital version of the sketch paper, which makes it possible to use simultaneously natural tools and vector manipulation. Badillo customized Esri’s ArcGIS Survey123 application so that archaeologists could place more than 50 distinct information fields on their iPad Pro, including attachments such as photos and sketches.


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A new approach

This allowed us to rethink the approach to excavation, especially for the two managers, Dr. Jordan Rogers, who teaches at Carleton College, and Mary-Evelyn Farrior, a PhD student at Columbia University. Each of them was assigned a specific area of ​​the site to supervise, in addition to the responsibility of directing the excavation operations and recording most of the data collected.

Rogers used the Lidar scanner on the iPad Pro in conjunction with the Laan Labs 3D Scanner app to create three-dimensional maps of the trenches. “It’s very fast – it only takes 10-15 seconds to scan and it’s super easy,” he says. “He did a great job of capturing all the details and putting them together, which will be very useful when we analyze the data at the end of the excavation.” A single instrument thus replaces paper and pens or pencils, the measuring tape and the string, but also the camera, memory cards, computers.: “I’ve used the iPad in the field twice before this excavation,” says Farrior. “But this is the first time I have used the iPad Pro and I have been able to gather all kinds of information in one place. I am drawing the excavation plans with Apple Pencil, I am taking pictures with the camera, I am writing my observations. with the Magic Keyboard. I am able to bring all of these things together at an incredible speed, and the battery has withstood all day extreme temperatures and the dusty environment of the excavations. “

All photos courtesy of the MiC - Pompeii Archaeological Park.

All photos courtesy of the MiC – Pompeii Archaeological Park.


At the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual conference next January, Badillo and his colleagues will present the database and explain the iPad Pro workflow that made it possible: “In terms of success, the iPad Pro workflow Pro exceeded my expectations in how quickly it allowed us to collect all the data and work together, ”says Badillo. But also to share them with other scholars to seek answers to the many questions they still do not have.

Meanwhile, a few months ago in Pompeii, Emmerson’s team did an important discovery: a very rare aureo, a gold coin commissioned by the emperor Augustus in his last year of life and which dates back to the year 13 or the first part of the year 14 AD A floor had been placed, perhaps as an offering to a deity while the workers were building or rebuilding the room, and therefore allowed those jobs to be accurately dated. And, more generally, the idea that emerges from Emmerson’s excavations is that Pompeii was not a city in decline at the time of the eruption, but rather it was experiencing a period of growth and development after the earthquake that hit it severely on February 5, 62 AD and which was also told by Seneca.

The responsability

This year’s excavation is the first of three. Over the next two summers, Emmerson will return with a team to continue excavations in the same area. But with a different look: “I understood the site better than I ever did at the end of an excavation: it’s the cleanest and clearest archeology work I’ve ever done, and iPad Pro has a fair share of the credit,” he notes. “It is one of the reasons why this technology is so vital: it allows us to show exactly what we have done and what we have found, because for me it is fundamental. live up to responsibility to excavate a site like this and tell the stories of the people who lived here “.

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