Digital Vacone


Since 2016, the Upper Sabina Tiberina Project has been transitioning from paper-based documentation to entirely digitally based recording procedures. One of the key changes in this transformation has been the use of close-range photogrammetry instead of traditional pencil and paper drawings of archaeological plans and sections. Photogrammetry, or structure from motion, is an imaging technique that allows fully three-dimensional computer models to be created of any feature of interest (such as individual artifacts, architectural spaces, or even stratigraphic layers). Much of this work can be accomplished with a simple handheld digital camera, but the use of pole aerial photography or even UAV (drone) photography helps us achieve even higher quality results. This methodology allows the UST Project to quickly and efficiently record detailed, photorealistic, and perfectly scaled models that represent a significant advance over traditional documentation techniques. The resulting 3D models can then be transformed into 2D plans and sections, or combined in 3D modeling software, unlocking powerful new avenues for qualitative and quantitative analysis. The following 3D models represent a small selection of our ongoing digital recording initiative.

Rooms 10 and 20

One of the first goals of the new digital recording strategy was to produce 3D models of all the rooms uncovered by the UST Project since 2012. Since our trenches are backfilled with sand and geotextiles for conservation purposes each year at the end of the season, the villa’s rooms and their mosaic and fresco decoration are not usually visible. This model of rooms 10 and 20, excavated between 2013 and 2016, provides a permanent record of these elaborately decorated reception spaces located off the villa’s peristyle.

Rooms 30, 32, and Tunnel

Another valuable advantage of 3D documentation is its utility in displaying complex topography, such as hills, slopes, terracing, and above and below ground spaces. The Vacone villa, located on a sloping mountainous terrain, was built on numerous terraced levels. It also included many underground features such as tunnels, cryptoporticoes, and a well. By combining 3D models of above and below ground spaces, the digital record of the site allows us to examine the relationship of these complex spaces in ways that are not always possible on site, and not evident from traditional 2D drawings.


Close-range photogrammetry can also be used to produce 3D models of individual artifacts, scaled to a very high precision. These models allow us to continue our analysis even when our finds are in storage. This model is of a fully intact African Red Slip lamp, discovered in 2017 within one of the villa’s cryptoporticoes.