Preserving Vanishing Ruins

Archaeologists use 3-D scanners, imaging techniques to create digital recreations of ruins.

By Vickie Chachere

USF.edu News Manager

 

TAMPA, Fla. (July 8, 2010) - The Saint Prudencio Monastery in Mount Laturce has perched on a rocky hillside of Spain’s La Rioja region since the 12th Century, one of the oldest structures of its kind in an area now better known for producing famed wines than the legendary Medieval battles that once marred the landscape.

The ancient monastery believed to be the burial place of Saint Prudencio is one of thousands of European ruins suffering the effects of theft, careless tourists and the elements. The few crumbling walls that remain standing appear to be on the verge of toppling over; its former grandeur is reflected only in a few carved arches which have withstood the ravages of time.

But now, University of South Florida archaeologists Lori Collins and Travis Doering, who have pioneered state-of-the-art techniques in mapping ruins around the world, are bringing their expertise to Saint Prudencio as the only American university participating in a special effort to teach European archaeologists new strategies for preserving cultural heritage sites. Thirty students from across Europe, starting July 9, will spend the next two weeks learning the advanced techniques and applying them to what remains of the monastery.

Collins and Doering also will be turning to two other tools of modern technology – Twitter and Flickr – to document their work. You can follow their work in field notes and pictures from La Rioja by clicking here.

“Unfortunately, we are losing cultural heritage every day,” Collins said in a message from Spain this week. “From prestigious World Heritage sites that are literally 'loved to death' with too much visitation and problems of open public access, to sites that are little known or neglected due to inability to fund conservation projects, or are imperiled due to natural hazards such as earthquakes, mudslides, or hurricanes. These problems are compounded when you add to the mix vandalism, looting, and development.”

They are also blogging during the trip and you can read the entries here.

 USF - working with universities from Spain, Italy, Greece, Germany and Lithuania – will teach students how to use 3-D laser scanners, Global Positioning Systems, and specialized photographic imaging techniques to document the ruins and recreate them in digital images.

Collins and Doering are co-directors for USF’s Alliance for Integrated Spatial Technologies and best known for their work on ruins in Central America, including the most recent expedition to the Mayan ruins in Tak'alik A'baj earlier this year. The two have applied their expertise to projects close to home as well, including the mapping of an abandoned pauper’s graveyard in Tampa and the remnants of prehistoric sites near downtown Miami.

Their work produces images of ruins so precise that they can capture features the human eye might miss, and their techniques allow for the easy sharing of information for scholars who need to study ruins but can’t get to them. 

Collins said such international experiences as the La Rioja program are critical for researchers and students who do not normally get to work together, but can learn from each other. The duo hope the program is the first of what will become future field opportunities abroad with the European Union and USF involving students from anthropology, archaeology, architecture, history and the natural and environmental sciences.

Vickie Chachere can be reached at 813-974-6251.