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Is it possible to reconstruct an ancient archaeological site using digital technology? A Ball State professor and a team of international researchers are proving that it is.

The church of Santa Maria Antiqua in the Roman Forum was built in the fourth century, converted to a place of Christian worship in the sixth century, and lay abandoned and forgotten under the ruins of other structures following an earthquake in 847 until being rediscovered in 1900. Now, researchers are using modern digital technology to document the excavation and restoration of the ancient monument.

Michele Chiuini, professor of architecture in the College of Architecture and Planning, and other scholars from England and Rome are using laser scanners and other digital tools to create an electronic 3-D model of the structure. Through their work, they can digitally reconstruct the different layers, allowing them to determine which parts of the site are original construction, which are results of the early Christian modifications, and which are restorations made after the structure’s rediscovery.

The digital media gathered by the researchers will be archived in databases that potentially could include information from historians who are also studying the site, helping to form a complete picture of the building and its history and making the site and the artifacts available to the public for educational purposes.

“The advantage of digital media is that it can connect a digital database to images for the general public or for scholars,” says Chiuini.

The excavation of the church also revealed important Roman frescoes and other valuable artifacts. The restoration has focused on creating a place to display these artifacts on the rebuilt site, making it a museum of its own.

“The buildings become not just reconstructions of the ruins but museums for their contents,” says Chiuini.
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“The advantage of digital media is that it can connect a digital database to images for the general public or for scholars,” says Michele Chiuini, professor of architecture.