Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


The research project consists of a two-year interdisciplinary program designed to stimulate changes in the way in which archaeologists in Italy and in the United Kingdom study urban spaces, bringing together two different traditions of studies. In both countries works on physical space, notwithstanding the proliferation of advanced new methodologies, have overlooked its interrelation with social space. On the other hand theoretical discussion of space has noted the weakness in this approach: to study space, it is not enough to enquire into only the environment and the changes made by man, because it has to be correlated with the uses man makes of that space. In the study of the Roman world from this theoretical reflection are born –in UK- numerous studies on different aspects of the use of space by man (the senses, movement), often with an imbalance towards the social aspect at the expense of the topographic one.
The aim is to help in the development and wider application of new paradigms for urban analysis based on the integration between traditional approaches and multidisciplinary studies. Overcoming this bipolarity, as has been demonstrated with this project, we will able to open up new opportunities to explore a wide range of both archaeological and historical questions.
The geographical focus of the project lies in central Italy, Lazio (Rome), where the Research Fellow has been working for many years. The objectives can be summarized as follows:
• To place the experience so far gained in Italy in a broader European context through the review of data with a new approach.
• To filling a gap on the social activities in the Roman Forum.
• To focus on social and archaeological analysis and GIS-based interpretation, developing a new methodology.
• To learn from more advanced practice in the United Kingdom compared with the Italian academic world.
Summing up this holistic approach to study the space truly as an interrelation between physical and social issues is important for at least three key reasons, theoretical, methodological and archaeological.
1. Reworking of a theoretical framework. The theoretical framework behind the project refers to the concept of space elaborated by Henri Lefebvre (The production of space, 1991). One of the key elements of his theory is the concept of space as a process, and therefore susceptible to analysis. But to do spatial analyses it was necessary to define a minimal unit of analysis. So in order to apply the Lefebvre’s theory to the case study through the three spaces that composed the Roman Forum –the conceived (mental space), the perceived (physical space) and the lived (social space) - have been reduced to their meaningful components, i.e. those that interact among themselves to form the cityscape as a whole: the authority planned to build an open area in the central part of the settlement (the square as a project = component of the thought space); then the valley was filled up to build a square (the square as building = component of the perceived space), where the armed people would meet (the social practice of the square = component of the lived space). Once having defined the meaningful components, it has been possible to build a relational database, in which the elements of the three geographical dimensions identified have been interrelated in order to be analysed with the GIS. In this way it has been possible to analyse ancient space, both from a physical and from a social point of view and to recompose the three spaces analysing the interrelations between them. This theoretical model -translated in a database associated at a GIS- can become a standard to analyse other ancient spaces.
2. A new methodological approach on the use of the archaeological and literary sources. This project went over the tendency to connect archaeological data directly to build space and literary data to the representation of space (conceived space) or the representational space (lived space): because these different dimensions are parts/constituents of the same class of data. This is very important methodological step: it implies that the archives (tables) – set up through the deconstruction - are divided according to the type of datum but they are a single database that collect all sources, from which it is possible to extract the meaningful components of the different dimension of the space. This approach has important implications for using literary sources in the reconstruction of ancient topography. This is big issue especially in the case of Rome, so rich in literary references, but it is a more general methodological question. Both sources provide information on the built and lived space, the difference is in the way in which this information is passed onto us. The archaeological sources are “direct”, while written sources are mediated, so are “indirect”. So the this project suggests a third option between rejecting literary sources or mixing them up in the analysis: here built contexts or social practices have been reconstructed from the archaeological sources and separately from the literary and epigraphic sources with the result that we have a representation of the perceived space in a certain time according to the archaeological sources and another representation according to the literary or epigraphic sources; at this point it is possible to superimpose and integrate the two layers of analysis and data. In addition the way of collecting data makes possible to evaluate with a specific query the reliability of the data and the type of information (historical, antiquarian, etc.). The same procedure is applied to the social space.
3. Improvement of archaeological and historical understanding. Once the relationship between the different parts of the database had been created, the system was implemented in GIS. Through GIS it is possible to analyse the Roman Forum, making a query on specific social activities for a certain time and the result is that the graphic representations of the spaces to which the queried social activity is linked is selected. So it is possible to analyse the association between topographical and social space and how it changed through time, both considering single social practices both evaluating them as a whole or testing the relationship, if there is one, between the different activities.
The results of the SpacesTroughTime project go beyond the potential effectiveness of its approach to Rome and the Roman Forum: the complexity and the abundance of available data in this case study has been a test of its value, showing clearly that the method is applicable not only to the Roman Forum. The structure of the database and its association with the GIS is applicable to other sites, not only classical sites. It is not easy to show clearly the socio-economic impact of an archaeological project. However, the main impact could be:
1) The dissemination of the Roman Forum – a symbolic place in the European imagery and history- as a dynamic multicultural place will be able to stimulate the consciousness, showing as there was a multicultural and dynamic society at the roots of Europe.
2) Putting life in ancient ruins, with a scientific approach, will affect also field and conservation archaeology.
3) Outstanding results of the SpacesthroughTime project on applying GIS for social and topographical research will increase the demand for highly qualified jobs.


Renata Schaeffer, (European Policy Manager)
Tel.: +44 1223 333543
Fax: +44 1223 332988
Record Number: 196756 / Last updated on: 2017-04-06
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