Buried Archaeology

Detect buried archaeological structures!

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DETECT BURIED ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES!

Detect possible unknown archaeological structures buried beneath the ground in areas surrounding the city of Rome, Italy! Simply scroll through each image to detect possible archaeological crop marks, such as these:

Archaeological crop marks in this area are usually of ancient Roman origin. They tend to have clear geometric patterns, revealing the foundations of buildings. Roman roads can be distinguished as very straight lines of parched vegetation (overlying ancient paving stones), with strips of greener vegetation on either side, where ditches used to be.

CULTURAL HERITAGE AT RISK

Rural land is rapidly disappearing due to urbanisation and industrial activity. Italy has an extremely rich cultural heritage, much of which lies buried beneath the ground. The pressure of construction is putting at risk many archaeological structures. Prior to development, archaeological surveys are required by law to ensure that no buried archaeological structures are present in the area to be developed. This is referred to as "rescue archaeology". Rescue archaeology is expensive and time consuming. The earlier it is carried out, the more efficiently construction activities can be planned. This project aims to provide additional information which may improve the efficiency of rescue archaeology, by detecting unknown archaeological structures in still undeveloped areas.

This chart shows the decline in agricultural land in Italy, plotted in percentage of land area.

HOW CAN BURIED STRUCTURES BE DETECTED?

Archaeological features, such as buildings or earthworks, may be completely buried beneath the ground. However, their interaction with surface processes may enable them to be seen, particularly in images acquired from above.

In dry periods, for example, vegetation growing at the surface may be forced to place deeper roots into the ground to find moisture. If a buried wall hinders root growth, the overlying vegetation will wilt. Conversely, a buried earthwork, such as an ancient moat or canal, may contain soil with increased moisture content. The roots of vegetation overlying the buried earthwork may therefore grow more abundantly (see an illustration of this below and to the left). This differential vegetation growth can sometimes be seen in images acquired from above.

Even if there is no vegetation growing above buried structures, in some cases, traces of such structures can be brought to the surface by ploughing activity (see an illustration of this below and to the right).

These conditions that cause buried archaeological features to be visible at the surface may not last long. Differential vegetation growth caused by buried structures may appear in dry periods, but following rainfall, vegetation under stress will recover, and traces of buried archaeology may disappear...

WHO BENEFITS FROM THIS PROJECT?

The purpose of this project is to systematically document the abundant crop marks in the countryside surrounding Rome, up to a 25 kilometer radius, visible in high resolution BirdsEye imagery from Bing Maps. Documented archaeological sites will help the relevant authorities to update their records of known sites. Moreover, the documented sites will serve as training data to apply Machine Learning techniques to automatically detect archaeological sites in a wider region. The detection and documentation of unkown archaeological sites is essential if they are to be preserved for future generations, especially given the pressure of development in the Italian rural landscape.