National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Maurizio Forte

Affiliation: Duke University

Maurizio Forte is the William and Sue Gross Professor of Classical Studies, Art, Art History, and Visual Studies in the Department of Classical Studies, Duke University.  He holds his degrees from University La Sapienza in Rome (Ph.D.) and the University of Bologna.  His areas of specialization are classical archaeology, particularly Etruscan and Roman, and digital and virtual archaeology; his current field work projects are at Catalhoyuk in Turkey); and Vulci, Tarquinia, and Cerveteri in Italy.  His most recent publication is Digital Cities in between History and Archaeology (ed. with H. Murteira, Oxford University Press, 2020).  


This research work presents the integrated application of remote sensing methods, which include multispectral unmanned aerial vehicles, aerial photography and high-resolution georadar measurements. The multimodal application of active and passive sensors permits a multilayered archaeological feature identification and substantial new interpretations of the rich archaeological landscape that call for a reconsideration of traditional scholarly narratives of Etruria’s history. In this presentation we will discuss the case studies of the Etruscan sites of Vulci (10th- 3th cent. BCE) and Doganella (7th-4th cent. BCE). This multimodal approach is necessitated by the varying topography and crop coverage of the modern landscapes, which facilitated the use of different techniques in different regions. Additionally, certain classes of features are more visible through one technological approach than another, so we endeavored to overlap our coverage with multiple survey technologies where possible. The results of each technological approach were output in raster form, wherein data is represented spatially through pixels. The disparate rasters were then brought into a shared GIS space using ArcGIS, which allowed them to be virtually stitched together and layered over one another. We were therefore able to interpret the datasets via their direct comparison with each other within one unified digital space. This technique greatly enhanced the scope and depth of our interpretations by allowing us to cover a broad area of varying topography and furnishing a richer underlying dataset. Through the creation of a visualization of the urban street network in this manner, a relative chronology was developed for the various sectors of the network based on the relationship of their orientations and layouts. Finally new extensive urban and diachronic maps of Vulci and Doganella (Vulci’s colony) have been reconstructed for the first time and with a very innovative method of investigation.

Previous archeological excavations at Vulci (Etruscan then Roman city) focused heavily on aristocratic tombs, funerary art, and ritual monuments that have shown the power of elite classes and their capacity to trade with the Attic region (in Greece). By contrast, less than 5% of the ancient urban area has been excavated and no stratigraphic documentation of Vulci has been published in the last decades. The decision of the Duke University team to dig in the Southern region of the tufa (limestone) plateau (2014-2022) near the intersection between cardo and decumanus, or perpendicularly laid out thoroughfares) was determined by a preliminary GPR (ground penetrating radar) survey in the area which showed very deep deposits (over 2.5 m.) and the overlapping of several monumental structures. In particular, the last two years of excavations unveiled the presence of a large network of Etruscan and Roman water systems: wells, cisterns, channels, tunnels, pipes, pools, fountains. Additional archaeological finds, such as a large monumental complex with several rooms and key objects like Etruscan inscriptions, ritual bowls and lamps, sculptures, and raw coral, seem to corroborate the idea of pre-existing water cults in the Etruscan and Roman times. This monumental complex was built in the Imperial Roman age (1st cent.CE) but on top of Etruscan buildings. The presence of Etruscan votive objects seems to demonstrate the pre-existence of an Etruscan sanctuary dedicated to water cults because of the presence of raw coral (documented in other sanctuaries and temples along the Mediterranean). Water is an outstanding research topic in pre-Roman and Roman archaeology; in fact, the Etruscans considered water an essential factor for everyday life making it paramount in their religion. Etruscan water systems were reused and imitated by the Romans and characterized urban settings and sacred placed for the entire first millennium BCE. Duke excavations in Vulci show complex water systems, originally Etruscan, then upgraded in Roman times. The Duke research team documented for the first time in Southern Etruria a very large (about 40 cubic meters) intact cistern (stratigraphically excavated) in 3D, including all the correlated tunnels, occluded shafts, well curbstone, and feeding conduits.

The study of the ancient mind is emerging as one of the most challenging and fascinating research activities pertaining to the biological, cultural, and social anthropology of Homo sapiens. This can be possible through new archeological study of traces and cultural inscriptions of brain processing, and, in particular, connecting the study of art, architecture and material culture with cultural models, cultural patterns and the evolution of human cognition. To understand “mind” (let alone “theory of mind”) in the humanities and social sciences, partnership with specifically “cognitive” specializations in the university landscape are essential for a thoroughly contemporary conversation. These academic disciplines and those derived from the natural sciences, including contemporary neuroscience, must be deeply engaged if we are to construct a new understanding of the inner workings of ancient minds and the societies they created. The research work of M.Forte aims to break new ground in the study of the past and in the interpretation of the ancient and modern mind by approaching research questions at the intersection of the brain sciences, humanities, archaeology, art, philosophy, aesthetics and visual studies. The main goal is to investigate and evaluate the cognitive impact of archaeological data (empirical and digitally reconstructed) in different scales (site and landscape) and through different technologies. Thus, portable EEG devices (computer-based) and eye tracking systems are used to acquire biometric data and virtual headsets, holographic screens, and digital desktop simulations will be used to engender embodied simulation. The main goal is to investigate and evaluate the cognitive impact of archaeological artefacts (empirical and digitally reconstructed) in different scales and through different technologies. Thus, portable EEG devices (computer-based), virtual and outdoor eye tracking systems are used to acquire biometric data and virtual headsets, holographic screens, and digital desktop simulations are used to engender embodied simulation. In fact, in neuroarchaeology, the goal is to re-interpret the past by studying the human mind through empirical and virtual stages of observation. For example, the observation of an archaeological excavation, an artefact, a monument or a museum generates multiple affordances, at conscious and unconscious level. In this realm of interaction, the perception of space is the interpretation key. Experiments are conducted in labs, museums and archaeological sites. The first experimental research started in September 2021 thanks to the collaboration between Duke University, University La Sapienza and the National Etruscan Museum of Rome.

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