Apolline Project

illuminating the dark side of Vesuvius

Geophysical Survey



The Roman city of Aeclanum presents a perfect test case for the application of geophysical methods to archaeology. The site is relative compact, has not been substantially built over or excavated, thus its historical development could be well understood. Geophysical survey work started in 2016 and has since revealed a range of buildings previously unknown to scholarship as well as much of the layout of the urban core. The summer school in geophysics is designed to allow students and young researchers to learn about key geophysical and mapping techniques while also contributing to our programme of exploration of this fascinating Roman site.

The survey so far

The University of Edinburgh - Apolline Project team started an extensive geophysical survey at Aeclanum in 2016. The initial aim was to produce a high resolution map of the urban topography of the site, to explore the depth of surface deposits in different areas of the site, and to assess the extent of post-antique damage to the archaeological remains. This geophysical survey was combined with a campaign of thorough documentation of the preserved standing remains on the site.


Due to the topography of the site and nature of the soil, ground-penetrating radar (GPR) was chosen, as this technique has proven to be particularly effective in identifying the presence of masonry structures with a high level of resolution and up to depths of 2-3m. In 2016, 1.6 hectares (16,000 m2) were explored using GPR and in 2017-18 two further hectares were investigated. As well as intensive surveying of the city centre, a series of 22 profiles were also surveyed across different areas of the city to evaluate the archaeological deposits within the city walls. 

These data revealed a number of interesting results. On the south side of the city centre we were able to identify a large open space, presumably the city’s forum, flanked by large buildings of public character – a sets of baths and a possible basilica. On the east side of the city centre and exterior wall of the cavea of the theatre was identified via GPR prior to excavation. In the north of the city, a series of structures connected to the city’s largest baths were identified, as was a major road, perhaps the via Appia. Running along the southern hill of the city a series of terraced domestic blocks have also been identified.

The profiles also confirmed that the north and south-east of the city had the greatest archaeological potential, while in certain sectors later ploughing or land slides have largely removed the archaeological deposits.
The results of our research have been already presented and published at the 12th International Conference of Archaeological Prospection and reported in the Papers of the British School at Rome:

The 2019 Summer School

In 2019, the geophysics summer school will continue to survey the urban centre of Aeclanum, especially along the southern edges of the city centre; additional survey work might also be undertaken beyond the city walls. The summer school takes the form of a two-week intensive courses providing attendees with training in planning, conducting and interpreting geophysical surveys of Roman urban sites. The course will concentrate on GPR, though other techniques and their uses will be explained. The training will combine theory and practice, with work in the field taking place alongside classes and lab-based assignments on all aspects of geophysical survey and the mapping of urban landscapes. Skills that students will acquire upon completion of this course include: basic knowledge of physical principles of geophysical techniques, ability to plan a survey, GPR data collection and processing, GPR data visualisation (2D and 3D), archaeological interpretation of GPR data, implementation of GIS platform to integrate geophysical and archaeological data.
Course participants will contribute to the final geophysics reports and opportunities for further research within the ambit of the University of Edinburgh – Apolline Project work at Aeclanum can be provided.

Provisional schedule:

Day 1
• Field: site tour
• Class: introductions
• Class: Geophysics and archaeology - an overview

Day 2
• Class: Laying down and georeferencing grids. Total Station Setup and Operation (Michielin L.)
• Field: planning GPR survey, laying down and georeferencing grids
• Field/Lab: GPR test acquisition

Day 3
• Field: GPR Survey on site

Day 4
• Field: GPR Survey on site

Day 5
• Field: GPR Survey on site

Weekend break

Day 6
• Class: Near Surface Geophysics (Rossi M.)
• Class: Basic principles GPR (Rossi M.)
• Class: Previous survey at Aeclanum
• Class: GPR processing (Rossi M.)?
• Lab: software installation

Day 7
• Lab: processing GPR profiles
• Lab: creation of GPR amplitude time slices
• Class: 3D visualization of GPR dataset

Day 8
• Class: GIS introduction
• Class: GIS, interpretation of archaeological data - case study of Maguzzano
• Lab: importing survey data in GIS and interpretation
• Class: interpretation of GPR 2D profiles - from GPR to archaeological stratigraphy

Day 9
•Lab: GPR slices interpretation in GIS
• Class: GIS - integration of archaeological data and geophysical prospection - case study of Santa Maria di Sala
• Lab: GPR slices interpretation in GIS

Day 10
• Lab: report writing
• Students presentations and discussion of the results
• Final discussion and future research directions

Taking part

The course will run from July 29th to August 9th and from August 19th to August 30th. The participation fee for two weeks is 700EUR. The fee covers shared accommodation in our facilities at Mirabella Eclano. Meals will not be provided, but the facilities are equipped with a kitchen, and food can be purchased locally at a reasonable price.
The course is open to undergraduate and postgraduate students alike. To apply, click here.

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