Sunday, July 20, 2008

Capware Virtual Museums Try to Relieve Pressure on Pompeii and Other Sites In Crisis

Images of what the bath complex in Pompeii originally looked like.

With the cries of alarm going up from the archaeological superintendent of Pompeii and other ancient sites around Vesuvius, digital artists from Capware, an Italian computer graphics company, have stepped forward to create virtual museums of many of the endangered sites in Italy in an effort to relieve the pressure from too many on-site visitors.

At the real site of Pompeii, "chunks of frescoes depicting life in the Roman city are missing, carried away by visitors or eroded by the elements. Graffiti is gouged into walls. Tourists ignore signs forbidding flash photography as they take pictures of erotic designs inside the Lupanare, an ancient brothel."

"Frescoes which would have been a rich "Pompeii red" when excavated in the 1800s have turned pinkish grey or peeled off altogether.

Scaffolding and steal beams prop up crumbling columns and roofs infiltrated by water. Many of the 1,500 houses at the site are closed to the public, either for repair works or for lack of custodians -- guards who retired have not been replaced."

"At least 150 square meters (1,600 square feet) of frescoes and plaster are lost to lack of upkeep each year and 3,000 stones crumble away, Antonio Irlando, the Campania region's alderman for culture, told newspaper Corriere della Serra on July 3." - Bloomberg

But, in Capware's virtual Pompeii, Herculaneum, Boscoreale, Baiae, Capri, and Stabiae, the structures appear as they did to the ancient Romans themselves complete with vibrant frescoes, breathtaking sculpture and intricately adorned furnishings.

I particularly like some of the physicality effects of Capware's Musei E Mostre (click on the link in the lower left corner of the website then the Technologie tab in the center of the screen and watch the movie in the lower right corner. I love how they have combined graphics effects with motion sensors that enable a visitor to virtually swish their hand in the water of a mosaic pool! They must have combined their visuals with "Wii"-type controls.

As you explore their website be sure to check out the links on the colored bar just below each tabbed section as well. On the Pompeii tab, for instance, they have image collections for different sections of the city such as the House of the Faun, the brothel, the necropolis, and the House of the Tragic Poet. The site is in Italian but the breathtaking images speak for themselves!

If Capware's imagery was combined with the multi-directional treadmill (I mentioned in an earlier post) into a facility that permitted a kind of physical exploration of each site, some people's curiosity may be sufficiently gratified to the degree that they would be willing to forgo admission to the actual sites themselves. You would probably need one installation adjacent to Pompeii with only a small restricted portion of Pompeii available for foot traffic to satisfy the more adventurous travelers, then one touring facility that could not only provide an educational and cultural experience for milllions of others but serve as a focus of attention on the need to preserve our collective cultural heritage and encourage contributions to research and preservation efforts.

An restored interior view from the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii.

Images of Roman Aqueducts



Capware's Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum

I had to marvel at the images of the Villa dei Papiri and was exhilarated to have confirmed the accuracy of its life-sized counterpart at the Getty Villa in Malibu, California that I visited again just a few weeks ago:

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Chariots to Race Once More at the Circus Maximus!!

Yahoo! The only frustrating thing is I'm not scheduled to go to Rome again until March 2009! Argghhh!

"The thunderous sounds of Ancient Rome's chariot races could once more echo around the Eternal City, with plans to stage an event in the Circus Maximus.
A scene from the  film Ben Hur
In Ancient Roman times, races were held using either two or four horses but sometimes skilled charioteers would use up to 10 to impress the Emperor

For hundreds of years, citizens of the Roman Empire watched chariots tear around the famous racetrack in what was the Formula One event of its time.

Now the historical society, Vadis Al Maximo (To the Maximum), is in talks with city officials to bring the event back – with perhaps slightly less blood and carnage as depicted in the film, Ben Hur.

Franco Calo, of Vadis Al Maximo, said: "The event would last three days, starting on October 17, at the same period when the race took place in Roman times.

"According to our calculations, the Circus Maximus area could hold up to 35,000 people. If possible, we hope to involve charioteers from all over the world."

In Ancient Roman times, races were held using either two or four horses but sometimes skilled charioteers would use up to 10 to impress the Emperor.

As in modern day Formula One there were various teams and winners would be given wreaths made from laurel leaves, as well as prize money.

Successful charioteers were hero worshiped and treated as celebrities but their life expectancy was not very high.

The most famous was Scorpus, who won over 2000 races before being killed in a collision at the meta, the column used as a turning point at one end of the track, aged just 27.

Horses, too, could become celebrities, but their life expectancy was even lower with many killed or maimed in spectacular crashes.

Mr. Calo said he hoped the plan would extend beyond the Circus Maximus, which is now being used as a park, with recreations of other pars of Ancient Rome around the city.

"All the main squares of the capital would be transformed into scenes from Ancient Rome, using props on loan from the Cinecitta film studios.

"Various screens would need to be installed at various points outside the course so that people could watch the races."

Restoring the Circus Maximus would include setting up platforms, security exits, a stage at the centre of the course, a ditch and outdoor stables."

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Nice video clip of Roman Art From The Louvre Exhibit

Here's a nice video clip of some of the pieces included in the exhibit, "Roman Art from the Louvre", that is now on display at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. I was fortunate to see the exhibit when it opened in the US at the Seattle Art Museum in February.

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Capitoline Wolf Dated to 13th Century

It's rather ironic that just before I left for lunch today I lovingly touched the reproduction of the Capitoline wolf that I have on my bookcase before walking out the door. I returned and read the article below. Oh well, I'm sure the original wolf was just as enchanting. Sadly, it was probably the victim of the metal "meltdowns" that were widespread in the Roman Empire during the Dark Ages.

"A statue symbolising the mythical origins and power of Rome, long thought to have been made around 500BC, has been found to date from the 1200s.

The statue depicts a she-wolf suckling Remus and his twin brother Romulus - who is said to have founded Rome.

The statue of the wolf was carbon-dated last year, but the test results have only now been made public.

The figures of Romulus and Remus have already been shown to be 15th Century additions to the statue.

In a front page article in the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, Rome's former top heritage official, Professor Adriano La Regina, said about 20 tests were carried out on the she-wolf at the University of Salerno.

He said the results of the tests gave a very precise indication that the statue was manufactured in the 13th Century.

Damaged paw

Academics have been arguing about the origins of the statue - known as the Lupa Capitolina - since the 18th Century.

Until recently it was widely acknowledged that the statue was an Etruscan work dating from the 5th Century BC.

The Roman statesman, Cicero, who lived in the 1st Century BC, describes a statue of a she-wolf that was damaged by a lightning strike - the Lupa Capitolina has a damaged paw.

However, in 2006, an Italian art historian and restorer, Anna Maria Carruba, argued that the statue had been cast in a single piece using a wax mould - a technique unknown in the ancient world.

She suggested the damage to the Lupa Capitolina's paw was the result of a mistake in the moulding process."

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Monday, July 7, 2008

Pompeii Cyberwalk Seeks to Reduce Visitor Damage to Pompeii

Apparently a collaboration of the University of Rome with cybernetic companies like the Max Plank Institute for Biological Cybernetics, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ) and the Munich Technical University has produced a virtual Pompeii Cyberwalk using an omnidirectional treadmill:

The Institute of Conservation reports:

"Growing numbers of tourists and visitors can pose serious problems for many fragile historic sites. The conservation of valuable documents in archives has for some time increasingly depended on the creation of digital surrogate copies, but the challenges surrounding the creation of a digital surrogate of an entire ancient city have proved too daunting until now. This week, it will be possible for the first time to - literally - take a stroll around virtual Pompeii.

A stroll around Pompeii is not just virtual reality – it involves real walking. Instead of sitting at a computer looking at a virtual streetscape, the ‘visitor’ walks - or even runs - on a multidirectional treadmill. As they move naturally, a 3-D headset changes the visitor’s view of the Pompeii streets so they can literally walk around a city which has not existed for 2000 years.

The walk around Pompeii is possible thanks to an EU-funded collaboration between the Max Plank Institute for Biological Cybernetics, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ), the University of Rome (La Sapienza), the Munich Technical University

Visitor numbers to heritage sites around the world continue to soar. It is expected that by 2020 there will be 1.6 billion international travellers per year, compared with 663 million in 1999. Over 16.5m Chinese tourists ventured abroad in 2002, twice as many as in 1998. The number of visitor to the Louvre rose from 5.6 million in 2001 to 8.35 million in 2006. In 2005 Angkor Wat received 1m visitors, Pompeii 2m, the Alhambra 2.2m and even Macchu Picchu has climbed well past 0.5m per year, growing at about 6% annually. If the world’s architectural heritage is not to be trampled flat by eager visitors, new ways have to be found of managing visitor numbers, and it is possible that a new generation of virtual reality experiences will have a part to play in this. It is not yet clear though whether high-tech encounters such as the Pompeii Cyberwalk will satisfy people’s desire for contact with the past – or whether they will just make the problem worse by stimulating their curiosity for ‘the real thing’ even further. "

There's a fascinating movie about the project at:
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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Astronomer Dates Caesar's Invasion of Britain

"Thank heaven for scientists who never mind their own business. Prof Donald Olson is an astronomer at Texas State University who has, for more than a decade, taken on a summer job as a historian. You may have heard him on Radio 4, delivering an update on his latest research: the date and place of Julius Caesar's momentous landing on the coast of Britain in 55 BC.

According to Olson, who reports on his intellectual adventures for Sky and Telescope magazine, there has always been an argument about quite when and where this happened. Caesar himself had no Ordnance Survey map, had sketchy local knowledge, and of course expected a lot of resentment from the locals. But he described, in book four of the Gallic Wars, the white cliffs of Dover, and a detour to find a more level playing field for the grim game ahead.

He did not give a precise date ("only a small part of the summer was left") but he was particular about the time he saw the hostile cliffs ("about the fourth hour of the day"), about how long he waited ("until the ninth hour"), and the distance he had to go ("about seven miles"). He also mentions, a bit later on, that on his fourth day in Britain as an illegal immigrant the cavalry reinforcements from Gaul were delayed by a storm, a full moon and an unusually high tide.

Such clues were enough to give scholars a crack at dating the invasion. Just as astronomers can predict future full moons, so they can confidently time them far in the past. So, they calculated, Caesar saw Dover but turned north-east and sailed around the South Foreland and landed at either Walmer or Deal on August 26 or 27. Latin scholars might have been happy with this conclusion, but hydrographers and astronomers were not; they calculated that the tides would be running the wrong way at the ninth hour of those days and take Caesar to the south-west.

So the team from Texas made the Julian date with destiny their summer assignment. They read all the texts, checked the tidal patterns, turned up in Dover in August 2007 just when the equinox and lunar cycle coincided to replicate the tidal conditions that Caesar reported, and figured that the problem could be sorted by assuming an easily-made clerical error by someone who copied the original manuscript. If so, time and tide would have been just right for a landing at Deal on August 22 or 23. Case closed - possibly.

This is arcane science applied to ancient history, and it makes both subjects lively. To get a more complete picture of the problem, Olson and his colleagues and students had to read Dio Cassius, and study Valerius Maximus, a chronicler from the first century AD. They had to consult classicists and archaeologists, match the Julian and Gregorian calendars, examine the verdicts of Victorian astronomers and naval hydrographers and use global positioning satellites to measure their own progress around the Channel coast."

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Roman Paris

A new internet friend just sent me this link to a marvelous site about ancient Roman Paris. It not only includes beautiful 3D graphics of reconstructions of some of the original Roman structures but an interesting virtual tour of places that can be visited today that have vestiges of Paris' Roman past. I found the description of the multi-use amphitheater particularly fascinating:

"What today is known as Les arènes de Lutèce [the Lutetian arena] is in fact a Gallo-Roman mixed-used amphitheatre, i.e. an amphitheatre with a stage. It consisted of an oval arena, two large lateral entryways and a cavea that did not completely encircle the arena. The missing section was taken up by a stage for mimes, pantomimes and singing performances. The arena was where gladiatorial combats (munera) took place and where wild beasts were hunted (venationes). The structure had an exterior gallery and a highly ornamented facade. Its impressive size-100 X 130.4 meters-make Lutetia's amphitheatre/stage one of the largest constructions of its kind in Gaul."
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First Punic War Rostrum Found Off The Coast of Sicily

"Italian researchers say a rostrum, used by ancient Romans to ram enemy ships, was found off the coast of Sicily.

The rare bronze appendage may have been used in the final naval battle of the First Punic War, ANSA reported Tuesday. The rostrum was recovered about 230 feet below the surface by divers aided by remotely operated vehicles.

Sicily's maritime affairs department department head, Sebastiano Tusa, said the Egadi rostrum confirms his theory that a battle took place northeast of the island of Levanzo between fleets from Rome and Carthage during the Battle of the Egadi in 241 B.C., the Italian news agency said."

It was the ancient custom for Roman senators and victorious generals to give speeches from the captured prows, or bows of enemy ships. The ships would then be drawn up on the beach and destroyed except for the prow.

"When you won a naval victory, you cut off the enemy rostra, brought them home, and mounted them on new ships of your own. The bronze prow was the most costly part of the ship, so bringing home the other guy's rostra meant that you could expand your fleet. After really great victories, you could do some serious bragging by mounting some of the rostra for public display rather than reusing them -- "We beat them so bad we have rostra to spare!" So Duilius mounted six "spare" captured rostra on the face of the forum tribunal after his fleet demolished the Latin fleet at Antium in 338 BC. In 260 BC, C. Duilius Nepos added several more after beating the Carthaginians at Mylae. Julius Caesar's plan to expand what by then was called "the Rostrum" was carried out by Augustus, but Augustus's rostra were decorative fakes -- real bronze showing wealth, but not from enemy ships. (The brick Rostrum seen today is a modern restoration.)

Augustus mounted real rostra from the naval battle of Actium on the front platform of the temple that he built to honor his assassinated uncle, "The Divine Julius (Caesar)", and that was particularly significant for two reasons. First, the Actium rostra were Roman, not foreign: they came from Marc Anthony's fleet. Second, Augustus was proclaiming the dominance and divinity of what was to become the Julio-Claudian dynasty both by putting a temple to his uncle Julius in the forum and by placing trophies on its front. He thus established a new Julio-Claudian Rostrum, and during that dynasty you had to be brave or silly to use the old one. The Flavian Emperors took over after Nero ended the Julio-Claudian line in disgrace, and use of the original Rostrum at the other end of the forum resumed." - Tom Wukitsch, Arlington Learning in Retirement Institute

Our English word rostrum, for the wooden stand used by a public speaker, comes from the Latin word for ship's prow.

For coin collectors in the crowd, the presence of a ship's prow on a coin reverse was used to signify victory, the importance of the grain supply (which was carried from Egypt in ships) or an emperor's care in ensuring an adequate grain supply."

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Great history website for children!

I was researching the ongoing excavation of a Roman fortress at Caerleon and stumbled across a great website for children about the Romans and the Celts. It includes curriculum materials for the study of the Boudiccan revolt with suggested classroom activities. It includes information about the Wetwang chariot and how archaeological evidence, found at the Wetwang chariot burial, has been used to reconstruct a Celtic chariot. The interactive also includes a step by step demonstration of how the chariot would have been made.

It also includes a "web quest" about the Bath House at Caerleon Roman Fortress. There are 5 tasks to complete. It includes an interesting bank of resources from the collections of the Roman Legionary Museum. It even includes a web-based book for children about Roman gladiators.

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