Thanks go out to this month’s National Geographic issue for turning me onto Stanford’s website for the project to piece together the Forma Urbis Romae. Also known as the Severan Marble Plan of Rome, the Forma Urbis Romae was a huge (60 by 43 foot) marble map of the entire city carved sometime between 203 and 211 A.D., and it was detailed down to staircases, doorways, and arcades. Only 10 to 15% of the map remains, shattered into 1,186 pieces, and the placement of many of the pieces within the map is still unknown. By scanning photos of the pieces and recording information about them like texture, edge thickness, and the presence of any mounting holes, historians and scientists at Stanford are creating computer applications to speed up the process of matching pieces to their place on the greater map. Stanford’s website for the project is an amazing amount of data, a slew of cool photographs, an easy-to-use web database app, and beautiful bit of truly ancient history all wrapped up in one!

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You know, that reminds me of the very first time I ever read about a computer application in the Arts. IBM published a book sometime around 1962, it had essays about how you might use computers in art applications, they especially solicited ideas that might be completely impractical. One essay I remember was about a proposal to digitize fragments of pottery, frescoes, etc from every museum in the world, a complete catalog of every fragment in search of its nearest mate. Pieces could be matched by catalog entries of shape, or by materials, chemical composition, etc. Obviously this couldn’t be done in 1962, in the era of punched cards. But they did a pilot study with two museums, and actually managed to find two pieces of an ancient Greek frieze that were in two different collections, and now were known to be connected parts of the same original artwork.
I didn’t read that in 1962 (I would have been a little kid) but even in the 1970s when I found the article, it seemed like science fiction. And now they’re taking a serious run at this idea.

• Posted by: Charles on Jun 15, 2005, 11:28 PM

Map Porn: Piecing together the Forma Urbis Romae…

• Pinged by :: Links on Jun 16, 2005, 9:45 AM
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