Students "Dig" iPads

May 24, 2011


On a field study to the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, students compare a 3-D reconstruction of the House of the Surgeon to the actual structure.

Digital Content Brings Archaeological Sites to Life

When you think of archaeology, what probably comes to mind are “Indiana Jones,” hand shovels and tape measures – not iPads, smartphones and 3-D electronic sketch programs. But archaeologists’ toolkits have changed over the years. Just ask any of the nine Rollins College students who recently used new digital technologies as part of a field study course in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii.

The team of anthropology, art history and environmental study majors was led by Robert Vander Poppen, assistant professor of classical art and archaeology, and Jonathan Walz, assistant professor of anthropology and archaeology.

According to Vander Poppen, well-known archaeological sites in Pompeii are incredibly difficult to identify and learn about — both from an archeologist’s and tourist’s perspective — because there’s a lack of information onsite.

“You could be standing in the midst of an incredible archaeological site like the early palace complex at Poggio Civitate in Tuscany and literally see only shrubs and dirt,” said Vander Poppen. “With little if any signage, you need access to data to interpret these kinds of experiences.”

With that in mind, the students took iPads into the field to capture images and used 3-D software tools like Google SketchUp to construct realistic models of where ancient buildings once stood.

The collection of visuals and information is being used to create an interactive, open-source blog. The eventual goal is to allow tourists access to it from their smartphones, so they can take a virtually guided tour as they walk through the remains of the ancient buildings in Pompeii. In addition, the tool will enable professors and students to learn more about these sites in a classroom setting. Dubbed the “Pausanias Project,”* this collaborative resource tool will eventually incorporate visual, textual and audio data related to archaeology sites of cultural significance from all over the world.

“This experience was amazing — and using the iPads enabled us to access research articles and specialized publications onsite, which we would have otherwise had to lug around,” said participating student Konrad Antczak (Class of 2012). “Technology is constantly opening new horizons for archaeologists, and our field study in Pompeii has demonstrated that it’s making the work of archeologists more accessible to the public.”

Walz and Vander Poppen plan to lead a team of students to East Africa next summer to collect onsite data in Tanzania. Since African history depends heavily on the oral tradition, the site was chosen to showcase how the web-based model can incorporate more audio components into the program’s content.

Funded by a grant from the Christian A. Johnson Institute for Effective Teaching, the “Pausanias Project” is scheduled to be online by the fall of 2013.

“Ultimately, we envision this project as an educational collaborative tool and as a public service to enhance tourists’ knowledge about cultural heritage,” added Vander Poppen. “Capturing information with new technologies is an exciting way to better manage and understand cultural heritage.”

*The project was named after Pausanias, a Greek traveler and writer who lived in the 2nd century AD. He is famous for writing Description of Greece in ten books, which is a traveler’s account of sights of historical and cultural interest in the Peloponnese and central Greece.

Office of Public Relations & Community Affairs
For more information, contact

Copyright © 2012 Rollins College, 1000 Holt Ave., Winter Park, FL 32789  407.646.2000

News Archives: