Students to spend summer re-creating Ancient Rome’s Cosa in 3-D imagery

The study abroad experience will have an added dimension for a handful of Case Western Reserve University students—a third dimension, to be precise.

This summer, three to five classics students will spend a month in Rome, where they will create a virtual 3-D reconstruction of an ancient Roman archaeological site in honor of the American Academy in Rome’s 50th anniversary celebration of the Cosa Excavation Project.

The students will accompany, live and work with Andrea De Giorgi, assistant professor of classics.

De Giorgi and the students will collaborate with Darby Scott, former director of the American Academy and a faculty member at Bryn Mawr College, and Bernard Frischer, a professor of art history and classics at University of Virginia, on the digital reconstruction of Cosa. This will become the centerpiece for an exhibit to celebrate the major archaeological work, which has yielded a wealth of information about classical architecture.

Students will combine today’s technology with ancient history, De Giorgi says.

Cosa was built around 273 B.C. as a Roman colony after they defeated the Etruscan cities of Volsinii and Vulci. The city sits atop a high coastal cliff in southern Tuscany.

Today it is a popular tourist destination in the region. The site is surrounded by a fortified wall and has a citadel of important sacred and public buildings. The urban complex faces a harbor in the Tirrenian Sea that has shifted geologically over time and is near the town of Ansedonia.

Excavation by the American Academy in Rome began in earnest in 1948 with a focus on temples on the citadel and the forum.

“The Academy’s excavations at Cosa represent one of the most remarkable archaeological ventures on Italian soil,” De Giorgi says. “The impact on past and present scholarship can hardly be overstated.”

Case Western Reserve students will celebrate this important legacy by building the video re-creation for the exhibit, which opens in December 2012.

“Over the years, Cosa was occupied time several times and then abandoned,” De Giorgi says. As it changed over the centuries, it left behind a trove of records in its temples, forums, baths and residential homes. Countless artifacts, mosaics and inscriptions have also been excavated and preserved from the site.

De Giorgi said that every major book written about Roman architecture has references to Cosa. One important finding from the site is the arx with its sacred buildings. Other information includes religious practices and cultural life.

The students will visit Cosa to understand the city’s plan, its buildings and parts of its daily life. Then they will return to Rome to make the virtual reconstruction using actual data from excavations.

This project taps the talents of Frischer, who is a world expert in digitizing the humanities, De Giorgi says. Frischer is the principal investigator on re-creation of Rome by the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities. Frischer’s work showcases a 3-D model of Rome’s history over five centuries.

Case Western Reserve students, according to De Giorgi, will use some of the same skills used in Frischer’s work, titled “Rome Reborn.”

“This is going to be a realistic re-creation based on facts from the excavation project,” De Giorgi says. “Students will learn to meld the ancient and modern worlds through technology.”