Integrated Archaeological Investigations
for the Study of the Greater Aquileia Area
Department of Ancient History, W6A 338 Macquarie University,
NSW 2019, Australia
Abstract. A large number of technologies, such as Geographic Information
Systems (GIS), Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Remote Sensing (RS),
geophysical instruments, allows nowadays for fast and reliable automated
capture, management and analysis of archaeological data. Beyond the City Walls
(BCW) is a landscape archaeology project based in the countryside of the Roman
municipium of Aquileia (Italy) that applies and integrates these technologies for the
reconstruction of peripheral settlement dynamics in antiquity, trialling concurrently
tools that operate as hubs for acquisition of disparate field data.
Keywords: Archaeological remote sensing, Aerial photography, Multispectral
and hyperspectral data, Historical maps image processing, GIS, GPS.
From its „official‟ inception in the second part of the 19th century, the archaeological
research on Aquileia has mainly concentrated on the analysis of building and planning
aspects of the Roman city, focussing on issues related to the urban sector [1-3]. The
surrounding countryside has by comparison received little consideration, with just a
limited number of projects focussed on the reconstruction of the suburban settlement
system, or the functional distribution of suburban spaces being performed during the last
decades [4-8]. The systematic detection of the landscape spatial organisation using
remotely-sensed data and topographic survey has been scarcely undertaken in the area,
and where this has occurred it has not been followed by consistent ground-testing to
verify the nature and scope of the detected traces. These attempts were based in turn
either on aerial photography  and multi and hyperspectral data [10-13]; however, some
of these pioneering efforts in remote sensing-based landscape reconstructions have not
always found complete support within the archaeological discourses .
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1.1 Beyond the city walls
Against this background, the „Beyond the City Walls (BCW): the landscapes of Aquileia‟
project1 aims to provide a timely study of Aquileian landscapes to understand trends of
peripheral occupation at different scales and times.
The study seeks to illuminate the landscape settlement dynamics of Aquileia‟s
periphery in antiquity, as seen through the layers of subsequent reorganisation of the land,
and to re-orient the discussion from an exclusive focus on the city to a broader
understanding of the city‟s relationship with the periphery and surrounding landscape.
These goals are being pursued using a combination of traditional archaeological research
together with a flexible data modelling system, automated data collection in the field and
the employment of geomatics (including the use of Geographic Information Systems
(GIS), multi and hyper-spectral remote sensing, and geophysical methods). Remote
sensing plays here a fundamental role in the identification of the Roman spatial signature
on the Aquileian landscape, contributing efficiently in the detection of the elements of the
built and natural environments that are constituents of the past landscape.
1.2 The case study area
The BCW project includes a vast portion of the peripheral territory of Aquileia, namely
the Communes of Aquileia,
Terzo di Aquileia, Fiumicello, Villa Vicentina, Cervignano,
Grado, Marano Lagunare, Ruda, Torviscosa, and Turriaco (Fig.1). To properly assess the
dynamics of landscape transformation, large areas and multiple locations need in fact to be
holistically investigated. Examination of a single location, unrelated to its broader
landscape and cultural context, would provide only a limited view of the functional
characteristics of the investigated landscape.
The area, ranging from a coastal tract to a primarily flat, fertile plain, was altered in the
past by geomorphic processes related to rising sea levels  and the migration of rivers
 as well as human-induced change.
1 BCW is a Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia) research project directed by the Author
and performed in collaboration with the Superintendence of the Archaeological Heritage of Friuli
Integrated Archaeological Investigations… C-3
Fig. 1. The extent of the case study area.
2 Sensing the Aquileian landscapes
Remote sensing in landscape studies holds a key role in the identification of data on the
ground that is unobtainable using traditional archaeological fieldwork techniques. The
imagery has the potential not only to disclose a substantial amount of information related
to isolated anthropogenic features but also to elucidate landscape transformations
connected to ancient human modifications of the environment.
Multi-sourced and multi-temporal remote sensing imagery coverage is needed in order
to collect as much information as possible in relation to a territory that has undergone
major transformations in the past 80 years. For this reason a large acquisition campaign
has been undertaken resulting, at the current state of research, in a holding of around 350
images, whose number increases exponentially once we consider the processed images2.
Aerial, multi and hyperspectral data are included in this material. In addition, digital
topographic data from radar systems (Shuttle Radar Topography Mission -SRTM-) and
satellite-borne sensors (Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection
Radiometer -ASTER- GDEM) have been acquired to be used as reference datasets in the
2.1 The remote sensing imagery
Aerial photos. A vast survey of available past and recent aerial photographs has been
undertaken (and is still in progress) in several regional and national institutions to achieve
the most comprehensive coverage of the investigated area and provide a wide temporal
span. The available imagery includes historical and modern photos spanning from vertical
photos dated 1938 to recent orthophotos dated 2007, with an average of at least one aerial
2 Each image can in fact undergo up to 10 or more different processes creating new imagery that
requires separate examination .
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coverage every ten years. Historical photos3 hold an incredible documentary value since
they document the state of the Aquileian landscape in a period preceding the massive
reclamation works started in 1933. It is therefore a straightforward procedure to detect
anthropogenic features, land partitions and outdated tracks that are no longer traceable in
the current territorial configuration.
Modern aerials4 (Fig. 2) provide important insights into the transformation of the
territory and are a vital reference for identifying recent traces of territorial changes that
may be easily mistaken as ancient.
Fig. 2. Geo-referenced aerial photos (CGRA 1990 left, IGM 1984 right).
Multispectral and hyperspectral data. The current provision of multi- and
hyperspectral data includes Landsat TM5, ASTER, GeoEye Ikonos and Daedalus
Multispectral Infrared and Visible imaging Spectrometer (MIVIS) imagery, with GeoEye
GeoEye-1 and DigitalGlobe Quickbird in the process of acquisition. While the poor
resolution of Landsat TM and ASTER (respectively 30m and 15/30/90m according to the
band) make them mainly suitable for detection of broad environmental features, MIVIS
and Ikonos (with a surface resolution respectively of 3m and 4m -multispectral-) are
demonstrably effective in the remote recognition of anthropogenic and natural traces of
medium-small size, having a minimum average area of 40m2 or a length of at least 15/20m
(Fig. 3). MIVIS and Ikonos resolution is limited in comparison to some of the latest HR
multispectral products, such as Quickbird and GeoEye-1, but the amplitude of the portions
of the electromagnetic spectrum they cover (especially with regard to the IR band) makes
them highly suitable imagery for archaeological goals.
3 The holding includes IGM (Military Geographic Institute) coverage from 1938, 1945, 1954.
4 Modern aerials include IGM coverage from 1974 and 1984, CGRA (Compagnia Generale Riprese
Aeree, Parma) coverages from 1990 and Orthophotos from 2000, 2003, 2007.
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Fig. 3. Linear traces evident on a TC display of a MIVIS run, located east of the Aquileia Circus 
DEM data. In order to define an objective framework for assessing the interpretations of
traces, a SRTM3 DEM (90 m nominal resolution) and a ASTER GDEM (30 m nominal
resolution) are systematically being used as a reference dataset and compared to the
remotely sensed data, providing important information that contributes to a better
understanding of the feature patterns.
2.2 Image processing
Image processing of remote sensing data is a fundamental step in the enhancement of the
visibility of traces. The goal of the enhancement techniques is to increase and improve the
optical distinction between features and traces recorded in the scene by generating a new
image where the useful information is more easily detectable and measurable.
Currently 1/3 of the acquired aerial images have been already processed for routine
image restoration and enhancement5 as well as ortho-rectified and geo-referenced, while
the completion of the procedure is expected by the end of the year.
A vast range of procedures has been applied to multi and hyperspectral imagery
according to the type of environmental settings represented in each image or in portions of
it. Among them, Vegetation Indices (VI), Principal Components Analysis (PCA) and Soil
Line Index (SLI) have proved to be extremely useful to augment the visibility and
definition of traces.
Vegetation Indices. Vegetation indices provide critical information of variability in the
amount, development and vigour of vegetation, and have thus proven extremely valuable
in archaeological research for detecting natural and archaeological deposits that augment
or limit the growth of the plants [16-17]. The presence of extraneous elements (such as
construction debris) in the composition of the subsoil can have a strong impact on the
growth of the vegetation, determining the manifestation of “marks” over the vegetation.
5 Image enhancement of aerial includes common procedures such as contrast enhancement,
histogram equalisation, interactive grey-level slicing (thresholding).
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The vegetation becomes, in this way, the mediating element of the subsurface
Vegetation Indices are particularly efficient when computed over hyperspectral data,
such as MIVIS, due to their fine quantisation of spectral information, which allows for
accurate definition of absorption features. As part of the standard procedure of VIs
application to the MIVIS data available for Aquileia, an average of 5 to 7 different VIs
have been trialled  on each MIVIS scene, including indexes like DVI, NDVI,
MSAVI26. As a result, a substantial number of potential archaeological features, made
visible through alteration over the vegetation, have been identified and mapped (Fig. 4).
Fig. 4. The use of MSAVI2 (right) allows for visualising linear traces that are not visible in the
True colour (left) MIVIS data.
PCA and Selective PCA. Principal Component Analysis has found substantial usage in
archaeological research since it can improve the differentiation of dissimilar surfaces,
landform and geomorphic features, which thus become more distinguishable during visual
inspection. PC transformation is particularly suitable for MIVIS hyperspectral data since
starting from MIVIS original and redundant 102 bands it generates a new, limited series of
bands (the Principal Components), where the information content is concentrated. The
transformed bands can then be used for visual analysis in lieu of the original, numerous
MIVIS bands. Principal Components 1, 2 and 3 of MIVIS data have demonstrated to hold
virtually all of the variance in the scene (on average 99.6 %) and, as a consequence, of the
6 Difference Vegetation Index (DVI) is a subtraction operation involving Red and NIR pixel values:
DVI=NIR-R; RVI ; Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) is the difference of the
Red and Near Infrared band combination divided by the sum of the Red and Near Infrared band
combination: NDVI = (NIR – Red )/(NIR + Red) ; 2nd Modified Soil Adjusted Vegetation Index
(MSAVI2) is a recursion of MSAVI: MSAVI2 = (1/2)*[2(NIR+1) - √ (2(NIR+1) 2- 8(NIR- Red)]
. See  for a discussion on their application to archaeological contexts.
Integrated Archaeological Investigations… C-7
total information, although valuable information can occasionally be found in higher-order
Principal Components .
To overcome the inevitable loss of details entailed in the PCA7, a SPCA (Selective
Principal Components Analysis), which is a PCA computed for groups of bands belonging
the same spectral region or to a single spectrometer of the sensor, is routinely applied to
Aquileia's MIVIS scenes and Selected Components are then displayed in composites
using a dedicated correlation matrix in order to identify the minimum set of SPCs able to
provide most complete information .
Soil Line Index. A Soil Line Index was defined to provide support in the identification of
archaeological traces on bare soil using MIVIS data . The SLI produces a new image
where the optical distinction between the wetness or the dryness of the top soil is
increased. By accentuating the dry-wet discrimination, the index facilitated the distinction
of linear or areal features from the surrounding ground.
2.3 From remote sensing to remote mapping
Raw and processed RS datasets are being managed into a GIS environment. The remotely
sensed traces holding an archaeological potential identified on the processed images are
converted to vector coverage. The process is accomplished via heads-up digitising, tracing
on-screen the outlines of traces deemed to have an archaeological interest. The detected
anthropogenic features and the topographical anomalies are being mapped at a nominal
scale of 1:1000 and being given a series of attributes to encapsulate pertinent information.
Among the attributes being retained in this process are metadata about the image
process(es) that facilitated identification, the degree of visibility of the trace, the likely
interpretation of the feature and the photo-interpretation factor (dimension, alignment,
orientation, shape, texture, pattern, size) which supported its detection.
At the current state of advancement, over 700 features have been identified and tagged
(Fig.5) using less than 1/3 of the available imagery. The identified features concur to
create a preliminary repository map, which is then tested by contrasting the mapped traces
against available datasets (see par. 3) suitable for the trace validation process. Experience
shows that a high number of these features will be discounted when contrasted with those
ancillary data as well as during and after the ground check. The trace crosscheck
procedure is one of the steps for the creation of a final „Map repository of remotely sensed
7 Many details that are visible when analysing the original separate bands cannot always be
recognised in the PCs because they are concealed by the overlaying information from other bands.
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Fig. 5. Detail of remotely detected traces plotted against Aquileian ancient topography (modern
topography in background). In this visualisation, they are colour coded based on their visibility.
3 Assessing the image detection procedure
One of the most challenging steps of every remote sensing project is the trace assessment
and substantiation i.e. the procedure of validating through auxiliary datasets the traces,
features and anomalies detected during the visual analysis of remote sensing imagery.
Although ground truthing activities for verification of remotely obtained trace datasets
(see below par. 4) assume vast relevance, the constant cross-reference to ancillary datasets
(cartographic -modern and historical-, archival, archaeological) is an essential stage of the
process of validation or discounting of the detected traces, reducing time consumption
during the interpretation process and providing the basis for a prioritised strategy of
3.1 A GIS for the Aquileian territory
The BCW GIS (©ESRI ArcGIS 10) manages a vast range of pre-existing topographical
and cultural datasets as well as project generated survey and remote sensing datasets that
concur to build an understanding of the landscape transformation. The datasets
incorporate modern geospatial information, historical mapping, archaeological and
Contrasted against these comprehensive data assets, the traces repository map can be
refined by assigning each feature a value of „archaeological reliability‟ [18, 22], i.e. an
evaluation (expressed as a percentile) of the potential of such feature to have an
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3.2 Modern cartography
The Region Friuli Venezia Giulia holds a substantial asset of digital cartography including
a complete regional digital coverage in scale 1:5000 and 1:250008. The available coverage
serves as a topographical base layer both for mapping features and surveying activities on
the field, providing a high level of detail and accuracy as well as constant update.
Pre-digital cartographic materials, produced between 1970 and 1990, have been
likewise acquired by scanning and geo-referencing them, since they retain a significant
number of useful information related to landscape changes that occurred in recent times.9
A vast assortment of thematic maps10 are also available to the project, making available
a substantial body of environmental information supporting the reconstruction of the past
3.3 Historical cartography
The Aquileian landscape is depicted in a large number of small and large-scale historical
maps from a period spanning nearly 400 years. Such documentation provides key insights
on landscapes arrangements, changing settlement patterns, and landscape elements
preserving relics of ancient activities.
Historical maps have been -and are still being-collected from regional and national
archives11. Currently approximately 90 maps representing the Aquileian countryside and
the peri-urban area, have been identified suitable for this project. A systematic semantic
and conceptual analysis, for the purpose of data modelling, is being conducted on the
already acquired maps. As part of their acquisition in the data modelling system, all the
maps undergo geo-referencing procedure, although many of the earliest ones exhibit
planometric distortions that make them too complex to use directly (Fig. 6). To overcome
this deficiency, the maps are processed manually after the geo-referencing in order to map
elements that provide insight on the settlement dynamics and at the time of their drafting.
This procedure captures nearly all map-specific information, and is well suited for data
mining and more sophisticated visualisations of the results.
8 A 1:10000 scale coverage, obtained through photo-reduction of the 1:5000 coverage, is also
9 A primary use is the fact that the orientation of the irrigation ditches can be and often has been
changed in past decades. These previous water channels are clearly visible in remote sensing
imagery and can easily been mistaken for centuriation markers or other ancient features.
10 The collection includes the Geologic Map of Friuli Venezia Giulia (scale 1:150.000), and the
Technical-Geological Map (scale 1:5.000) incorporating the Geomorphological Map, the Subsoil
Map, and the Structural Map.
11 Namely the State Archives of Triest, Venice and Gorizia, the Capitolo Archive of Udine, the
Provincial Archive of Gorizia and a number of libraries, including the Biblioteca Joppi of Udine,
the Biblioteca Statale Isontina of Gorizia and the Marciana National Library of Venice.
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Fig. 6. A Napoleonic Cadastral map (1811) geo-referenced against the modern topographic maps.
On the right: the zoom shows the Napoleonic map plotted against the modern topographic map.
3.4 Archaeological and cultural datasets
A comprehensive archaeological map in vector format of the Aquileian countryside
has been created by digitisation of published archaeological cartography12 and a
systematic collection and plotting of archaeological literature. Location of past casual
finds, excavations, and surveys have been recorded with the best possible level of
accuracy, although this was not always achievable in reference to decades old
information. The inclusive map supplies contextualisation for remote sensing and
survey obtained data as well as historical mapping datasets, allowing comparison with
the elements that compose the past landscape and their interpretation.
4 Ground truth activities
A critical part of any archaeological application of remote sensing is the fieldwork
component of the project. A large number of cross tests assists in the verification of
identified traces and the quality control of image processing techniques, with field walking
survey and use of geophysics instrumentation underpinning the substantiation of the
ground mapped features.
At the current state of the research the prospective archaeological sites are inspected
through systematic field walking survey. In a future stage of the project, the sites with the
highest archaeological reliability will be investigated through geophysical methods,
namely Ground Penetrating Radar and Electromagnetic survey.
These ground-based methods will support the verification of underground
archaeological deposits and will eventually result in the collection of detailed physical
dimensions of the detected features.
12 Archaeological map holdings include [1, 24]. Archaeological maps from 18th and 19th centuries
(such as the ones realised from G.D. Bertoli, C. Baubela, E. Maionica and P. Kandler) are
included in the historical cartographic dataset.
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4.1 Ground survey
Field survey is being carried out following conventional procedure of field-walking in
(virtual) grids or line transects, subject to the consent of the local landowners. Current
verifications are being conducted in March-April and October-November periods, with
repetition of ground-truthing activities at the same location, in order to ensure systematic
coverage over the investigated areas and possibility of better visibility of detected features
in dissimilar environmental, climatic and seasonal conditions.
The survey activities include differential GPS recordings of transects/grids and on
surface visible features, in addition to documentation of surface artefacts using mobile
devices by systematically mapping the density distribution of artefacts and their spatial
variability. Fieldwork relies heavily on automated procedures of mobile data recording
because of a number of practical issues related to fast data collection, connected to the
opportunity to access large fields only for limited periods.
Fieldwalker App. Fieldwalker is a custom-made Android App developed for this
project in order to speed up the field data collection. The App runs on a Samsung Galaxy
tablet and is remotely connected via Wi-fi to the GPS to receive positioning and geo-
locate field-recorded data in real time. By entering the relative positions of the surveyors
and tracking the walking path via GPS, it is possible to store textual, photographic and
graphic information on the field for each positions of the surveyors. The App also works
in fact as a hub for automated acquisitions of geo-located photo shots on the field and
manual drawing. Although mobile GIS products are commercially available, the App
expands considerably the capabilities of those products providing more flexibility and
customisation, and the possibility to import disparate types of data.
5 Forthcoming research
The BCW project is currently at its first stage, with three complete field campaigns and
two per year, planned for the next years. As a result of the preliminary ground
verifications, a number of sites holding a very high archaeological potential have been
identified and will be further investigated using non-invasive geophysics methods.
Indicators of past human presence and activities, such as potsherds and other surface
artefacts, are being identified, counted, sampled and plotted against the topography of the
investigated areas. The count data collected on the field are being used for the creation of
distribution and density maps (Fig. 7) of archaeological deposits on the plough soil
surface. One of the current focuses is to distinguish assemblages that reflect the
anthropogenic use of the site, from others that are just the results of different
interventions, such as, for example, the terrain transfer from one location of the Aquileian
countryside to another site, a common practise adopted in the area until fairly recent times
as part of reclaiming the land. The goal is being pursued by the analysis of soils on which
the artefacts are deposited. At the current stage of results, it appears sufficiently clear that
the original stratigraphy in sections of the territory S of the Aquileia have been heavily
reworked and altered, and that natural phenomena contributed to significantly modify the
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original deposits. Notwithstanding it is still possible to identify portions of agricultural
fields, where later modifications have not changed the surface sites in a substantial way
(both manifestations of covered strata or phenomena existing only on the present surface
with no relationship to a stratified deposit), that retain substantial evidence of spatial
distribution created by past cultural activities. The prosecution and widening of this study
of high-density and low-density artefact scatters, preserving information about past human
activities, will provide in turn a better understanding of the settlement dynamics and land
management of the Aquileian landscapes.
Fig. 7. Distribution and density of artefacts on the ploughsoil surface (M. Chang).
Acknowledgments. The author wishes to thank the „Servizio pianificazione
territoriale‟ of Regione Friuli Venezia Giulia, the Consorzio di Bonifica Bassa
Friulana, the Arts eResearch at The University of Sydney, Mr D. Busato, Dr M.
Chang and all the students and volunteers participating to the 2010 and 2011 surveys.
Special thanks also to Soprintendenza Archeologica del Friuli Venezia Giulia and the
National Museum of Aquileia, in the persons of Dr L. Fozzati, Dr M. Novello and Dr
P. Ventura, for their kind support and assistance.
Regione Friuli Venezia Giulia data authorisation: P.M.T./1295/2100, 25-01-05.
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