A Brief History of the Corinth Computer Project, 1987–2023
By Dr. David Gilman Romano
Since 1984, in both my teaching and research at Penn, I had been using AutoCAD, then a new computerized architectural drafting program, and had seen the potential of the combination of AutoCAD and new survey techniques for archaeological field work. A course taught in 1986 was critical in the overall conception of the project. In a seminar concerning Corinth I assigned each student a building of the city to research and draw using AutoCAD. During the course of the term I had the idea of putting the computerized drawings together to make a larger and more comprehensive drawing of a portion of the city. With this experience in the classroom together with information about the electronic total station, I envisioned a new and highly accurate means of making a map of an ancient city. I had already spent considerable time in Corinth for, as a student at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, I had worked in Corinth between 1976-1980 and a portion of my dissertation, “The Stadia of the Peloponnesos,” concerned the Greek racecourses of the city. I excavated, under the direction of Charles K. Williams, II, in the SW Forum area of Corinth in the Fall of 1978.
This proposed research in Corinth would form a basis for the study of the work of the agrimensores, the Roman land surveyors, as well as for the study of the development and evolution of the planning of the Roman city, both urban and rural. It was not clear in the beginning how many years the project would last and it must be admitted that the objectives of the project grew and developed over time. In 10 summer seasons of work between 1988-1997, I together with small groups of students from Penn, proceeded to survey with an electronic total station all of the above ground structures, monuments and roadways of the Roman city of Corinth. From the beginning we utilized several computer programs, AutoCAD, an engineering program and a survey mapping program, in order to computerize the results of the survey. In each of the summers during the months of July and August we carried out our above-ground survey under the permit from the Greek Archaeological Service to the Corinth Excavations. The Corinth Computer Project has been sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology under the auspices of the Corinth Excavations of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. The names of all of the students involved in the project are included on the people page.
At approximately the same time as the summer field project was begun, I initiated the Corinth Computer Project Research Laboratory in the Mediterranean Section of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. As a recipient of an IBM Threshold Grant at the University of Pennsylvania in 1984, I had been offered a small office and a computer with which to explore the potential uses of the computer in teaching and research. In that year I was able to employ David Conwell, a graduate student in Classical Archaeology, to assist me in this work. From 1988, in this modest laboratory, students began working on different aspects of the Corinth project during the course of the academic year from September to May. The students were typically work-study students, volunteers and assistants paid hourly. Thanks to the generosity of the 1984 Foundation, I was also able to hire a nine-month Research Intern for the year 1988-1989, Mr. Benjamin Schoenbrun, who began the work of analyzing the data from the summer season of work in Corinth and who assisted me with the supervision of the work of the laboratory. This was to be the first of a series of excellent Interns and Research Associates and Research Assistants of the Corinth Computer Project, all of whom have been instrumental in the ongoing work. In 1987 we began digitizing the 16 1:2000 scale Greek Army Mapping Service topographical maps of the 35 km2 surrounding the city of Corinth as well as a number of actual-state drawings of excavated and published buildings and monuments of the Roman city.
In the first five years of the summer research we concentrated our work on the survey of the monuments and structures of the city within the Greek circuit walls. Details of the survey methodology are available elsewhere. During the second five years of the research we continued our survey of the buildings and monuments of the Roman city but also expanded our interest to include much of the land of the Corinthia. The reason for this expansion was due to the fact that we had been able to define the limits of the urban Caesarian colony of 44 B.C.E. and additionally we had some evidence for the agricultural land planning (centuriation) associated with the rural aspects of the colony that extended outside the Greek city circuit wall. For this work we increased our resources to eventually include 66 1:5000 scale Greek Army Mapping Service topographical maps of the Corinthia (over 600 km2 of area) as well as high elevation and low elevation air photographs. In addition we obtained EOSAT and SPOT satellite images of the Corinthia. In 1992 Mr. Osama Tolba was hired as Research Intern and the Corinth Computer Project Research Laboratory began remote sensing and GIS studies of the evidence from the urban and rural aspects of the Roman city of Corinth. These new sources of data and analysis provided us with exciting new information concerning city planning and centuriation associated with Roman Corinth. Additional Research Interns Mr. Gus Fahey, Mr. Kostis Kourelis and Mr. David Conwell continued the work of the research laboratory.
During the second five years of fieldwork, 1993-1997, we continued more systematically what we had started earlier, to survey and collect information about periods of the city of Corinth other than Roman. This meant surveying virtually every above ground structure and monument within the Greek city wall circuit. In addition, in 1994, Ms. Leslie Kaplan, Research Assistant, began a study of the city between the 17th and the early 20th centuries. Her study is a compilation of literary accounts of modern European travelers to Corinth and a collection of some of the Venetian drawings and maps and later European drawings, maps and landscapes. She also includes a comparison of the plans of the Turkish town with the modern Greek village. A summary of her study is included under Modern Corinth.
During the years, 1997-2009, since the end of the fieldwork of the project, the Research laboratory in Philadelphia was active in the study and analysis of the data from Corinth. Actual-state plans of the buildings and monuments of the were continued to be digitized and are were assembled together to form a new seamless actual-state drawing of the entire excavated city of Roman Corinth. The actual-state plans have been successfully geo-rectified to the highly accurate electronic total station survey of the city. Furthermore the new actual-state drawing has four different kinds of data associated with every line. Included are date, physical characteristics, function and bibliography. Elements of this work will be visualized on the website. In this work I have been ably assisted by Mr. Nicholas L. Stapp, Research Associate of the Corinth Computer Project who has overseen the work of the research laboratory 1995-2000 and subsequently Research Specialist Mr. Timothy Demorest, 2002-2004, and Research Assistants Mr. David Pacifico, 2004-2006, and Mr. Dan Diffendale, 2006-2009. Their work included important methodological research as well as the training and supervision of the annual 8-12 undergraduate and graduate students who actively worked in the Corinth Computer Project research laboratory.
During the years 2006-2009 we have undertaken the huge job of digitizing all of the contour lines of the 66 1-5000 topographical maps of the Corinthia (mostly 2 and 4 m) in order to have the best possible information available for our topographical analysis including GIS and spatial analysis. In addition, much of our work of the past 4-5 years has been involved with checking the accuracy of the maps and plans that have been previously digitized and geo-referenced. At the same time Mr. Mark Davison of the University of Oregon and the Oregon State Park System (formerly a Research Assistant of the Corinth Computer Project) has been involved with the conversion of some of the Corinth actual-state drawings from AutoCAD to ArcGIS.
Since moving from the University of Pennsylvania to the University of Arizona in 2011, I have reestablished the work of the Corinth Computer Project as a part of the new Archaeological Mapping Lab in the School of Anthropology. In each of the years since my arrival here I have been assisted by Lab Managers and graduate and undergraduate students. The Lab Managers have included Matt Pihokker, Emilio Rodriguez-Alvarez, Stephanie Martin, Julia Juhasz, and Laryssa Shipley.
There have been a number of publications that have appeared that deal with the methods and results of the Corinth Computer Project. A complete list of them is included under bibliography. Currently I am preparing material for the final publication of the Corinth Computer Project, to be published by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. The publication will consist of a Corinth volume in the Corinth Excavation series, a map gazetteer, and digital data.
David Gilman Romano
March 29, 2023