Archaeologists use iPads during excavations at Pompeii

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

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Original caption from Apple website: Researchers compare wall annotations in iDraw. Says Ellis, “We need to simply draw a lot of what we’re recording, because as we dig down through these layers we are essentially destroying the site. To destroy it is to understand it.”

One of the difficulties during large-scale archaeological excavations is efficient and detailed information-gathering, in a form that will be useful going forward.

Archaeological remains are non-renewable resources. Thus, when archaeologists excavate, they get one chance to do so—and seek to gather the most information possible, in a practical manner. This is because there is no second chance—the excavation can only happen once.

To increase efficiency, accuracy, and detail, archaeologists working at the ruins of Pompeii have been using Apple iPads to record their excavations.

You may read the full story here, which begins:

In Pompeii—the longest continuously excavated archaeological site in the world—iPad is revolutionizing how scientists work in the field. Rather than recording notes and sketches on paper, researchers at the site use iPad and apps to capture invaluable historical data faster, more easily, and with far better accuracy.

For Dr. Steven Ellis, who directs the University of Cincinnati’s archaeological excavations at Pompeii, perhaps the most significant discovery at the site this year was iPad. Ellis credits the introduction of six iPad devices at Pompeii with helping his team solve one of the most difficult problems of archaeological fieldwork: how to efficiently and accurately record the complex information they encounter in the trenches.

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Pompeii is a Roman town that was buried by pumice and ashfall from an eruption of nearby Mount Somma-Vesuvius in the late summer of AD 79. The town of Pompeii is southeast of the volcano, and estimated to have been directly in the path of the windblown debris (map from Wikimedia Commons here).

Dr. Ellis directs the Pompeii Archaeological Research Project: Porta Stabia (abbreviated PARP:PS). The project website notes:

Through the full range of archaeological inquiry—archaeological excavations, structural and artefactual analyses, and geophysical surveys—we are revealing the dynamic structural and social history of an entire Pompeian neighborhood. The research area covers a working-class district (modest houses, shops, workshops, and hospitality outlets) that sat in the shadow of to the so-called ‘entertainment district’—an area comprised of two theatres, a large public colonnaded courtyard (Quadriporticus), three temples, and a forum. Here was the social and cultural centre of Pompeii. This project thus presents a unique opportunity to examine the complex decisions involved in the planning, integration, and use of public and private space in the ancient city. The results are contributing to a more detailed and reasoned understanding of the roles that non-elites played in the shaping of an ancient city, and how these families responded to various Mediterranean-wide socio-economic developments.

Even today, many museum displays on archaeological excavation techniques show graph paper, pencils, erasers, and rulers. An update to the displays may now include tablet computers like the iPad.

As wonderful as the shift to digital technology may seem, what are the drawbacks?

Where to find it