The agile robot is being used to identify structural and safety issues at Pompeii—an Ancient Roman city encased in volcanic ash following the 79 C.E. eruption of Mount Vesuvius— such as narrow passages and uneven surfaces, while also inspecting underground tunnels leading to and from the site that were dug by thieves to steal (and later sell) ancient relics.
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The robot is the latest in a broader initiative to transform Pompeii into a “Smart Archaeological Park” with “intelligent, sustainable and inclusive management.” The impetus for this “integrated technological solution” started in 2o13, when UNESCO identified structural deficiencies and damage at Pompeii and threatened to remove the site from its World Heritage list unless measures were taken to improve its preservation.
In 2012, Italy intensified their crackdown on culture-related crime and there has been a corresponding decrease in theft on the site. However, tunnels are still being identified in the surrounding area.
The goal, as noted in the release, is to “improve both the quality of monitoring of the existing areas, and to further our knowledge of the state of progress of the works in areas undergoing recovery or restoration, and thereby to manage the safety of the site, as well as that of workers.”
“We wish to test the use of these robots in the underground tunnels that were made by illegal excavators and which we are uncovering in the area around Pompeii, as part of a memorandum of understanding with the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Torre Annunziata, led by NunzioFragliasso,”said Pompeii’s director general Gabriel Zuchtriegel in a statement.
“Often the safety conditions within the tunnels dug by grave robbers are extremely precarious, as a consequence of which the use of a robot could signify a breakthrough that would allow us to proceed with greater speed and in total safety.”
The laser scanner, Leica BLK2FLY, will also fly over the 163-acre site and conduct 3D scans in conjunction with Spot. The recorded data will be used to study and plan further interventions.
This is the first time, noted Zuchtriegel, that this kind of technology has been developed for an archaeological site.