The ruined city of Pompeii — its residents’ bodies so famously and eerily preserved by the very volcanic ashes that fatally buried them nearly 2000 years ago — has seen better days. With neither the budget nor the personnel to protect itself against invading hordes of international tourists, the city is at risk of damage, structural collapse and petty vandalism. Worse, the very ground beneath it might be unstable, leading to a much more dangerous problem down the road.
This is where “Italian aerospace and defence giant Finmeccanica” comes into the picture. Finmeccanica, normally known as a manufacturer of “electronic warfare equipment” and military drones, will be wiring up the dusty remnants of Pompeii into an extensive network of high-tech sensors that will monitor the soil for instabilities.
General view of Pompeii and Mt Vesuvius; courtesy US Library of Congress
As Phys.Org explains, the project’s aims “are to assess ‘risks of hydrogeological instability’ at the sprawling site, boost security and test the solidity of structures, as well as set up an early warning system to flag up possible collapses.”
The Street of Tombs, Pompeii; courtesy US Library of Congress
While data streams from the city will eventually be made available online, one of the more interesting details of the installation is that “security guards will be supplied with special radio equipment as well as smartphone apps to improve communication that can pinpoint their position and the type of intervention required.”
In other words, while out on their daily rounds, guards will receive electronic updates from the city itself, including automated pings and alerts of impending structural failure or deformations of the ground due to slumping and erosion.
Fortuna Street, Pompeii; courtesy US Library of Congress
It’s as if they will be wire-tapping the ruins of a dead city: this mesh of electronic equipment, normally used in military surveillance operations, thus helping to preserve the archaeological site for future generations.
There’s something so odd and haunting in this vision of old crumbling columns and shattered walls somehow finding a new voice through repurposed military equipment, like some strange, weaponised seance performed on the empty streets of a site that’s more tomb than city.
The Forum, Pompeii; courtesy US Library of Congress
The possibilities for interactive apps and other touristic experiences are also mind-boggling here: imagine, at the very least, being able to walk into the center of Pompeii all alone, with nothing but your phone and some earbuds, tuning into real-time broadcasts of the groaning masonry all around you, a wireless archaeological orchestra of shuddering old monuments in the sun, listening from within to the sounds of the ancient city. [Phys.Org]
Lead image: Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, enters the ruins of the “extinct city” of Pompeii; courtesy US Library of Congress.