4D Researchlab

Acquarossa Memory Project

Acquarossa Memory Project. Reconstructing an Etruscan Town.

Digital techniques and cultural heritage connect, in an innovative way, new and old within the Humanities. In the new project I will present today, an Etruscan townscape will be recreated; modelled results created by the 4D Research Lab will be integrated in an Archaeological Park and Museum in such a way that international scholars and visitors can acknowledge and study 3D reconstructions of a series of Etruscan houses within their successive phases of creation, function, reception, destruction, and reconstruction.


Acquarossa (literally red water, named after the red-coloured creek surrounding the tuff plateau) is an Etruscan town near Viterbo, Italy. It lies in the heart of Etruscan territory, close to the Lago di Bolsena, one of the most important nature sanctuaries. The town has been discovered in the1960s by locals. Excavations carried out by the Swedish Institute in Rome revealed a series of Etruscan houses, inhabited from the 8th century BC until the middle of the 6th century BC, when the town was suddenly and inexplicably abandoned. The houses were left to crumble and the remains of the foundations, the walls and the decorated roofs, as well as the thousands of household utensils, were all found in situ. It is one of the very few examples of an intact Etruscan townscape, with a unique set of family dwellings from the past.


The local Archaeological museum in Viterbo had relatively recently designed a new exhibition of the finds from Acquarossa in modern surroundings, mostly the decorated roofs of the houses. You see here the series of decorated plaques and antefixes, all from the early 6th century BC. Since 2014, the 4D Research Lab has been involved in an interdisciplinary research project, in collaboration with the private partner Azienda Agrituristico Raffaele Rocchi, which focuses on the reconstruction of a set of houses in annotated 3D models. The private owner already has a so-called re-structured Franciscan tower on the site which is used for holiday purposes.

The 3D models will be used to build actual guest-houses at the site itself, for which permission from the Italian state (the Soprintendenza) has been granted. The actual houses are going to be constructed at the far end of the plateau, where no archaeological remains are left, there it is mere bare rock.

We concentrated first on Zona B, where a simple set of houses had been excavated. One of the things we plan to do is to bring together the results of our Amsterdam research tradition in the field of heritage, memory, material culture, archaeology and restoration of the site of Acquarossa and with the modern presentation of the site in the Archaeological Museum in Viterbo. An important way to connect these and to reach a wider public is the production of an App that shows a model at the very point where the foundations of the houses are covered and invisible. A modern Archaeological Park.

Zona B has been thoroughly analyzed and prepared for an annotated model, which will serve the architect in building the holiday homes at the first place, but of course primarily serve the scientific community to analyse building structures from the Etruscan period and chaine operatoire in the past.

The application of 3D modeling during the research into built environments offers new insights and a new approach for analyzing data. The many perspectives on the actual building itself, i.e. the spatial context, and the possibility of visualizing the architectural phases through time (the ā€˜4Dā€™ element), makes visual computing an innovative tool for the specialist. When the path that leads to the final reconstruction of the building is thoroughly documented, it generates a vast amount of new data otherwise never encountered. The model of Zona B will be published in an annotated system. The 4D Research Lab already has an initial system in place for storing built heritage information digitally. An interactive website is under construction (thanks to funding by ACHI) with access to other media. The models are completely accessible and dealt with as a scientific publication. The final model can then be used to build actual houses, but based on proper research and publications, not phantasy or misinformation.

Now back to the accurate construction of the houses (and their roofs) at the site. For this we made a set of 3D scans in the museum in Viterbo. This acroterion for instance we knew belonged to houses of Zona B. With the scan we can create a negative, a mould, which in its form can be printed and then re-used to create the terracotta roof elements. In total we have now the material to build three different roofs, in an accurate manner. We deliver the materials, and the architects and commissioner can work with them.

The scanning is done with the HDI scanner which has the ability to create models with extreme precision. Photogrammetry is also practical, and by far cheaper, but not as accurate. Moulds need to be very precise in order to produce exact materials. It is for the very first time that moulds for roof elements are created in modern times. Only 15 moulds are known from this period. They are essential for studying chaine operatoire. We will make a 3D landscape reconstruction of the site, in this case there is no other method than photogrammetry. We will use a drone and the Leica P30/HDI advanced, for the tombs, waterworks and quarries in the deep creeks and ravines around the plateau. Today, no inventory exist of the many archaeological features around the site. We plan to make an detailed map in 3D of the site, which of course was not possible at the time, but is now accessible with modern techniques.

The Geo-staff of British School in Rome will also join the project for planning geophysical research at the site. The Swedish Institute conducted trial trenches at the time at the Pian del Sale, a small plateau to the west of the settlement of Acquarossa. Recently resistivity analysis was carried out, but this revealed not enough traces of what is actually underground. GeoPhysical radar instruments will certainly reveal remains of building at Pian del Sale, survey research will hopefully find traces of workshop activities. The project will be carried out with international advisors and students from the University of Amsterdam and the University of Lund (through tutorials, internships, theses, modeling practices), in collaboration with the British and Swedish Schools in Rome.
Patricia S. Lulof, PL