My colleague Eric Poehler will be speaking at the University of North Dakota next week on “Pompeii in the 21st Century.”

How does one ask a novel question about a site that has been studied, nearly continuously for over 250 years? How does one come to new realizations when almost all new excavation is not permitted?

This is the challenge for Pompeian scholars in the 21st century, finding what the great minds of the past overlooked without being able to add large sets of new evidence. Paradoxically, a solution has been propelled by the moratorium on excavation into the areas still buried by ash of Vesuvius. Unable to discover new parts of the city, archaeologists turned to examine those parts already uncovered in both greater detail and in a wider context.

Since 2000, the explosion of personal computing power – especially in commercial statistical, database, and spatial tools – has expanded the ways we approach these questions from counting and cataloging aspects of the urban fabric to using the space of the city itself to derive new visualizations, new queries and new syntheses. The 2011 season of the Pompeii Quadriporticus Project will wholly replace the trowel, drawing board and tape measure with the iPad, photogrammetry, and Geographical Information Systems software. Within 10 years, these tools will also put entire libraries of reference material at our fingertips while inside the ancient city, dissolving the the distinction between fieldwork and library work.