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Archeology, Architecture and the Virtual Past

Archeology, Architecture and the Virtual Past

Description of the research group  

Sanctuaries, domestic and funerary sites have the most prestigious buildings in the urban landscapes of the past, emerging within a network of centres of the then-known Mediterranean world. Notwithstanding the fragmentary condition of the remains, this architecture – and especially the richly decorated roofs – are crucial sources of information on the constitution of political, social and craft identities, acting as agents in displaying the meaning of images. Investigating craft communities, workshop organizations and networks has never been thoroughly undertaken for this period and region, nor for this exceptionally rich category of materials, or for the craftspeople producing the architectural terracottas. To understand production and construction in this period, to reveal relationships between main production centres, and to study the possible influences of immigrant craftspeople, a program has been developed to reveal  the structure of exchange through the application of digital tools and concepts. Digital techniques and cultural heritage connect in an innovative way new and old within the humanities. These applications (drones, remote sensing, GIS, 3D modeling, AR and VR) are major research tools, serving scholars from various disciplines, in order to reconstruct a series of major monuments and sites within their successive phases of creation, function, renovation, and destruction.

The research group envisages a chronologically ordered set of case studies. Sanctuaries, domestic and funerary architecture, and human-constructed environments in general, were afterwards re-built and extended during several centuries up until Republican times, Imperial period, and the Early Middle Ages until recent times. Innovative and dynamic reconstructions with the help of 3D and virtual reality simulations offer great possibilities in studying these transformative processes and will be implemented in the research group. Architectural and archaeological data are fully available through long-running projects. Instead of being a sophisticated tool to visualize buildings and structures that no longer exist, 3D and dynamic reconstructions are now being applied as research tools, urging researchers to formulate new questions that are new in the specific research area. The project aims at knowledge exchange and multidisciplinary scientific research, using both digital methods as (in-)tangible heritage. It will use connected data (applications) and techniques as new intermediary in the final dissemination of the products. Re-utilization and exploitation of (archaeological) heritage is the chief goal of the project, as is the exploration of future projects of collaboration in creative industry and archaeological (built) heritage.

The proposed project will establish the role of private partners in scientific research of the research group in several aspects of digital humanities and archaeology, especially in ancient building techniques, and the production of terracotta roof decoration, by exchanging expertise in the field of modeling and engineering, thus giving the possibility to study chaîne opératoire in real time. The theoretical ambition of this archaeological heritage project is to (re-) define this set of concepts and to test their validity by bringing into play a specific and rich set of data, namely the architecture and roofs of the ancient world and beyond. 

Research sub-group

Sensing the past

Envisaged results  

In general, this program will result in books, proceedings of conferences and peer-reviewed articles, articles in periodicals specialized in virtual reconstructions, digital reconstructions, development of new computational programs and Apps. Thematic exhibitions, expert meetings, workshops (in close collaborations with cultural institutions and museums in the Netherlands and Italy). Funding is sought for in programmatic research applications at NWO (Free Competition, KIEM, and PhDs in the Humanities), International research applications with several European academic partners (ERC, JPI). Several of these will be developed within the range of the sub-projects described above. So far, the program consists of the following projects: 

  • Biographies of Buildings: Virtual Futures for our Cultural Past (NIAS 2015, Research Group) 
  • Living in the Past. Reconstructing Etruscan Houses in Acquarossa. CREATIVE INDUSTRY-KIEM-Subsidy Oktober 2017-August 2019. 
  • Diaspora and Identity. Reconstructing a Jewish neighbourhood. NWO-funded (Free Competition, prof. J. Symonds and prof. J. Gawronski, participation of the 4D Research Lab), Exhibition Jewish Historical Museum, 2019-2021. 
  • PURE-3D. An Infrastucture for the publication and presentation of 3D Scholarship (with University of Maastricht) 2020-2023. 
  • An application for the funding of a Pilot Project  has been awarded by the AUF for the 4D Research Lab, Project van Klooster tot Kwartier, Januari 2019 (with Lex Bosman). Now a major Network group project: From Monastery to University Quarte. Network group AHM 2020-2024. 

The program will initiate cooperation projects for the long-term, including several proposals. Individual projects, however, have a restricted time schedule. While each member of the group is individually engaged in specific projects (including conferences, exhibitions and publications) we will meet on a regular basis to share results and develop collective discursive projects and organize conferences or present ourselves as a group at international meetings. 

Societal relevance 

The digitized image of architectural heritage can be used to serve the modern audience through exhibitions, presentations at fixed installations and digital publications, offering a valorization of this innovative science project. The relevance also derives from current public interest in virtual reality (VR) reconstructions of ancient and religious sites. The relevance of this project goes far beyond the visualization of architecture in the past. The most important goal is to define virtual reconstruction as a research tool (to improve the understanding of architecture and their role in society) and as a tool to structure and exchange knowledge within the research community but also towards the society through museums and other memory institutions. This project has a wider societal importance as it materializes the link between the researcher and the public, in making the research understandable, visual and enjoyable. It also has a twofold economic importance as it optimizes on one hand the exchange and sustainability of the archaeological and architectural research and provides content to the creative industries on the other hand, that can be turned into a range of new products and services. 

Research Group Type: Project group 
Duration: 2021-2025 

Group Coordinator

Members of the research group  

Prof. dr. Lex Bosman 
Prof. dr. Wim Hupperetz 
Dr. Patricia Lulof 
Drs Jitte Waagen, PhD 
Drs Tijm Lanjouw, PhD 
Drs Sara Mura, PhD 
Drs Pamela Jordan, PhD 
Drs Loes Opgenhaffen, PhD 

External Members

Prof. John Hopkins (New York) 
Prof. Carlo Rescigno (Capua) 
Dr. Charlotte Potts (Oxford) 
Dr Nancy Winter (Santa Barbara) 
Dr. Annalize Rheeder (Berlin) 

Institutional or professional partners  

  • 4D Research Lab 

  • Allard Pierson