Scientists from the University of South Florida (USF) are using 3D technology to conduct research that could potentially rewrite the history of Greek Sicily.

Since last year, the team has been using advanced digital technologies to study the ancient city of Heloros, which dates back to the eighth century BC. Visualizations from the study will soon be available to the public through immersive virtual reality.

The project is a multi-year collaboration between the University’s Institute for Digital Exploration (IDEx) and the Archaeological and Environmental Park of Syracuse, Eloro, Villa del Tellaro and Akrai.

USF Humanities Professor and IDEx Director Davide Tanasi, an internationally recognized archaeologist, designed the fieldwork. Tanasi is known for discovering the chemical signatures of the oldest wine and olive oil in European and Mediterranean history and for conducting the genomic study on 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 an integrated preliminary analysis. The team has since identified previously unknown parts of Heloros’ urban plan, which now shows new houses, roads and public buildings.

The team has worked in time zones from Sicily to Tampa, Florida, as researchers perform 3D digitization at the archaeological site and share the data with their colleagues at the IDEx lab.

“The local team pre-processed the raw 3D data and sent it to us with feedback and instructions to proceed,” Tanasi said in a university press release. “It’s kind of a ‘hybrid fieldwork’ where we broadcast live from the site and held a lot of team meetings.”

The team working on the site used high-tech 3D digitization techniques, spatial analysis and geophysical prospecting to map long-discovered sections of the site that were never fully explored. The rest of the city is still underground.

Drone photogrammetry of the sacred area of ​​Heloros, with the sanctuary of Asklepios and the sanctuary of Demeter, the Greek goddess of fertility.

“The high-resolution 3D models created 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.”

The high-resolution data being collected and eventually shared by the IDEx team will aid future archaeological digs.

The team will spend the fall processing data collected by laser scanning and ground-penetrating radar and will release 3D models and GIS visualizations online. These virtual reconstructions will also incorporate data obtained through traditional topographical methods to enhance previous archaeological maps.

Heloros covers an estimated area of ​​20 hectares, of which scientists have discovered approximately five percent.

Researchers plan to complete digital scanning and underground mapping of the entire city in 2022 and begin traditional archaeological excavations in 2024.

For more information about the project, visit the university’s website.

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