Wishing for Data, Working for Data: a manifesto for an Open Pompeii


Post by Eric Poehler


An Open Pompeii, for me, has been a dream since 1998, since the first time I ever thought about the archaeology of the ancient city. That dream is recalled almost every day: each time I need to find an obscure book, make a map, access an archive, or visit a building on the site. The dream became a calling in 2007 when I discovered that a colleague and I had each, unaware of the other, been spending hundreds of hours digitizing the landscape of Pompeii to run our analyses. How much better might those hundreds of hours been spent in the context of our research? How much more might we understand? That experience was the origin of Pompeii Bibliography and Mapping Project and the beginning of a recognition for me that we are losing information and losing opportunity by failing to cooperate and failing to organize. I was therefore elated to learn of OpenPompei and the SCRIPTORIVM (and its impressive video announcement), not only because it represented a step towards wider collaboration, but also because it came from within the Italian community. I’d long wished for a like-minded Italian community, and now it seems that wish is coming true. Thus, it seems appropriate to share a few other wishes for Pompeii. What follows is a ‘wish list’ of projects that I’ve been interested to see started, pushed forward, and in some cases to be finished.

“Spatializing the city”: Attaching data to places and architectures.

The important explosions of research on Pompeii over the last 250 years on Pompeii have, in one way, been exactly that: intense fragmentations of a unified urban environment into categories of study (archaeology, art history, classics, epigraphy, history, etc….), the instruments of scholarly communication (articles, lithographs, manuscripts, and now 3D models), and in many cases literal separation from the city (into museums, private collections, and the pockets of visitors). It is time to bring the data back home. There are innumerable opportunities to put the representations of frescoes, mosaics, inscriptions, and objects back into their natural spatial environments and we are fortunate to have at our disposal remarkable works of aggregation to accomplish this: Pompei. Pitture e Mosaici, Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, Nova Bibliotheca Pompeiana, Studio sulle provenienze degli oggetti rinvenuti negli scavi borbonici del Regno di Napoli, Pompeii in Pictures, Fortuna Visiva, among others. Yet we seem to find ourselves in the paradox to stand at once on the shoulders of giants and in their shadows. We have thus far been unable or unwilling to take on both the genius and the failings of these scholars and projects in order to do something more. Happily, this is beginning to change.

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All you scriptores, let us set up your tabulae: everything is ready for SCRIPTORIVM.

Four weeks from now, we will be harvesting our crops. Imagine where you will be, and it will be so. The appointment is in Pompeii on 19 and 20 June: remember these days, for they belong to you, and will be yours for all time!

There will be 50 of us. If someone think we are taking but few men and women, we answer they are too many for the enterprise on which we going. If you think that we rely on numbers, then any number is not sufficient, for it is but a small fraction of the number of data; but if on men’s valor, then this number will do. Since their strength is in cooperation, the cooperation often despised by those who do not understand its importance.

It will be not be easy: who will line up at our side will have to be focused on the goal, because when we will begin, we must go all the way. We do not fight for those alive today, but for those who will live in the future. We are not liberators. Liberators do not exist. Data are free by their very nature.

Archaeologists, civic hackers, curious and committed citizens: let us do what we were trained to do, what we were bred to do, what we were born to do! A new age has begun, an age of openness.

So hold the line! Stay with us! Register! We have to take on four tasks:

Archeologica Academia: If you would like to allow better access to archaeological literature, realising a 4D map of Pompeii that associates artifacts to the papers that refer to them by time and space location, this is your track. In addition to bravery, we are looking for people with skills in writing code.

Imagines Pompeiorum viarum: If you would like to create an archive of georeferenced digital images of Pompeii, that people can use to enjoy a virtual visit of the site; if you think that Mapillary, a crowdsourced catalogue of images, is the open response to Google StreetView, this is your track. In addition to bravery, all you need to participate is a smartphone or a tablet and strong hoplite legs for hunting high and low the ancient city.

Pompeiorum libera tabula: If you would like to open the archaeological maps locked into paper publications digitizing, vectorialising, building proper metadata and disseminating them as open data to return them to citizens and the scientific community, this is the right track for you! Anyone can contribute, with even the most basic GIS skills.

Ad faciendum certiores hospites: If you would like to develop a web site about Pompeii that can respond to visitors’ needs, let’s participating in the realisation of WePompei.it. Anyone can contribute: computer-scientists, mappers, archaeologists, story-tellers and lovers.

He who fights can lose, he who doesn’t fight has already lost: our banner is #SCRIPTORIVM!

This. Is. OpenPompei!

Periculum in mora


(Tito Livio, Ab urbe condita; XXXVIII, 25)

Towards SCRIPTORIVM: OpenPompei at CAA2015 (II part)

As we have already told you, OpenPompei has taken part in the Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA) Annual Conference and, as desired, we met many “open archaeologists” to involve in SCRIPTORIVM. But especially we took part in the presentation of MODA, the Italian Manifesto of Archaeological Open Data. We want to support the rising archaeological community interested in opening and sharing data beyond our project’ end. We believe that OpenPompei is like an enzyma that can accelerate the building of a new management of Cultural Heritage based (also) on Open Data. So, as the name of the CAA Annual Conference recited, “keep the revolution going”! The Manifesto could be the first step in this direction!

#epicfail? Has Open Source in Archeology failed?

This is the provocative title of Mappa Project speech in ArcheFOSS session, in which it tries to answer this question: why in the last years the impact of Open Source in Archaeology has been so limited?

Two main reasons can be identified.

  1. the absence of  a more theoretical approach:  “Open source was a computer science issue, the transposition to archaeology was not associated with a strong theoretical approach. Open Source was not able to propose new development, new forms of doing archaeology, that include new ways, and standards, of handling, processing and modeling information. (…) Open Source in archaeology goes beyond the mere application of software, in fact, it represents an area where archaeologists can focus on discussion about the nature of archaeological data, their definition, representation and manipulation.”
  2. the absence of education and formation in Open Source skills: “it’s necessary to provide future archaeologists with a level of competency both in archaeology and computer science (…). Only proper training can permit them to engage in the development of new IT tools consonant with archaeological interests, and to foster a deeper conceptual understanding of how applications work as a necessary step towards the creation of new ones.”


MODA is a declaration of intent about the right of open access to archaeological data of entire citizenship. All archaeological remains are part of humanity’s legacy. As such, they belong to all of us, together with the information connected to.

It was born by a group of archaeologists from different backgrounds and arose from the experience of the first Open School of Archaeological Data, promoted by the MAPPA Lab of the University of Pisa in July 2014.

Everyone worked in different places, studied in different Universities, but all agreed about creating and sharing data in open format.

Another opportunity to broaden and strengthen the rising archaeological community was the STVDIVM, promoted by OpenPompei project. Educational meetings such as these, promote the birth of a community of practice, that is a network of informal communication, linking a group of archaeologists working and learning together.

Since October 29, 2014, 130 people have signed the Manifesto and also the following projects (besides OpenPompei): Wikimedia Italia, Mappa Project, Archeo ed Arte 3D – La Sapienza.

Why are Open Data so important in Archaeology?

Forty years of stratigraphic excavations have produced thousands, billions of data. Data-harvesting have an expansive cost. So, why do not we re-use data?

Through use and re-use of Archaeological Data, we will able to make really cost- effective our data-harvesting, optimizing production costs.

These practical considerations must be added to another one: opening and sharing Open Data generates a virtuous circle. By this one, both scientific community and citizens as a whole can benefit.

The virtuous circle of Archaeological Open Data consists of:

  • making data-harvesting process transparent through sharing Open Data:

an archaeologist works like an antenna receiving signals from the past, decoding and then retransmitting them. The signals were reduced by the long-time and are definitively destroyed by excavations themselves. We will able to verify several times the interpretation process: sharing Open Data we can ask them new questions, generating new knowledge;

  • working together quickly and creatively to improve archaeology:

with the increasing availability of more data processable we will able to create new perspective for the research;

  • encouraging ethical behaviour:

information sharing makes everyone responsable for protecting Cultural Heritage and leading the foundations for a shared management of Cultural Heritage itself;

  • promoting the development of innovative services saving time and costs in the management of Archaeological Heritage
  • create value and accountability for cultural institutions

We believe that in this way Archaeology regain a strong social relevance as a public service.

An European Manifesto

This is an Italian pilot project, but the instance of opening and sharing the raw data could be an instance of all european archaeologists. Every country have a different situation about attitude, laws and management of archaeological information. But the goal could be the same: reinforced our research-methodology in order to enhance historical landscape preservation.

SCRIPTORIVM: the next-live event!


This rising open archaeological community will meet again at SCRIPTORIVM. The participation of MODA’ members at this event is purposeful: we will go from theory to practice of ha(r)ckeology starting from a site of symbolic value as Pompeii!

Keep the revolution going!