• Project: : IPAMED (Inventaire du Patrimoine de la Méditerranée)
  • Site: Bir M’sharga
  • Scientific coordinator: Giorgio Gullini

The IPAMED (Inventaire du Patrimoine de la Méditerranée) project, presented in the context of the “Euromed Heritage I” program and financed by the European Community with the goal of exploiting the cultural heritage of the Mediterranean area, aimed at the creation of a computerized cartography of Tunisia, which in executing the design, focused on a zone that corresponds with the north-eastern area of Tunisia. The programme was implemented thanks to partnerships of the Institut National du Patrimoine (INP), Tunisia, Centro Ricerche Archeologiche e Scavi di Torino (CST), Italy, Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), France.

Among the principal objects of the project, which developed between 1999 and 2001, there was the training of a team of technicians for the management of the archaeological heritage, capable to utilize the modern technologies in relation to the Geographic Information System (or GIS) as applied to a cultural heritage. The participants from several Mediterranean nations (Tunisia, Algeria, Palestine, Syria) were trained by Italian, French and Tunisian experts in the various sectors pertaining to the project (archaeology, geographic information system, topography, remote sensing).

Moreover, the use of multi-spectral satellite images was experimented, together with the data provided by the archaeological surveys, to identify anthropological traces to be used in the reconstruction of the structure of the settlement in the surveyed landscape, with special reference to the area immediately to the west of Uthina. The budget and the final results of the project were presented at the Valbonne-Frejus (France) conference, January 25th – 26th, 2002. The IPAMED project has now been published in the volume IPAMED Carte Informatisée du Patrimoine, Tunis, 2005, prepared by the Tunisian INP team.


The GIS utilized in the IPAMED project can be defined as a Territorial Information System or a system aimed at describing natural or artificial landscapes to average scale on topographical maps that represent rivers, lakes, roads, buildings and fields to scale from 1:2500 to 1:50000, and primarily focused on:

  • exact positioning and location of the archaeological unit (whatever it might be) in the landscape and within said topographic information system;
  • chronological identification of said unit (whether in relation to its absolute dating or in relation to a determined cultural period);
  • ppresence of parameters, within the alphanumeric database, aimed at the protection of the Cultural Heritage.

The work carried out was aimed, on the one hand at the creation of a digitalized and georeferenced cartography, on the other hand at the formation and implementation of an exhaustive database by means of series of subsequent steps:

  • FAcquisition or input phase: the cartographic, remote sensing and alphanumerical data (such as all the bibliography information) have been inserted in the computer. All the geographic data has been indicated in the computerized cartography by means of global positioning systems (GPS).
  • Elaboration phase: the various databases (geographic and alphanumerical) thus acquired have been organized in such a way that it is possible to call up and manipulate the information.
  • Phase of analysis and validation of data inserted and information thus obtained.
  • Phase of presentation of data or output: the data duly elaborated and interpreted is made available in tables, graphs or thematic maps.

The case of Uthina

The work conducted by Centro Ricerche Archeologiche e Scavi di Torino was especially concentrated in the western hinterlands of Uthina and was aimed at verifying and optimizing the use of satellite photo-interpretation in studying the landscape in historical and archaeological terms, within the GIS platform in relation to all the alphanumerical data (publications, archives, reports, etc.). The opportunity of using both the aerial photographs of the area, panchromatic and to scale 1:15000, as well as the SPOT panchromatic satellite images (with a resolution of 10m) and multi-spectral images (with a resolution of 20m) on the visible and infrared spectrum bands was particularly effective. Based on the assumption that the variation of energy reflected or emitted by the terrain depends on what the soil hides (structures, canals, etc.), leaving precise traces on the surface of the earth, the remote sensing images were subjected to image processing, trying to determine on which light spectrum bands the information of the spectral signature appeared more noticeable. At that point the panchromatic satellite image was merged with the multi-spectral image thus obtained and, subsequently, with the newly elaborated image and the aerial photographs duly georeferenced. The result was a high-resolution image able to combine the spectral information and the overall satellite images with the detail and precision of aerial photographs, remedying the resolution limits of the former and the excessive precision of the latter. Photo-interpretation, combined with archive studies and sampling, produced interesting results not only in the identification of traces referring to archaeological areas that may be at risk but primarily in the context of the historical reconstruction of the Uthinese landscape and how it was organized in ancient periods.

Uthinese landscape

The Roman centre of Colonia Iulia Pietas Tertiadecimanorum Uthina was founded by the Romans in approximately 27 BC following the settlement in the area, just south of Carthage, of veterans of the 13th Legion, in an important part of the hinterland, protected by the colony of Carthage. In the northwestern area (Sidi Ben Arous and Sidi Dhawi) surveys carried out by Centro Scavi brought to light clear traces of a probable ancient agricultural system, perfectly in line with the landscape relating to the urban centre of Roman period. These are well-marked lines, with a 45° N orientation. The comparison with the already known bibliographic data made it possible to associate these traces to structures, which in the IPAMED database were indicated with the site markings 13028NE301 (Sidi Ben Arous) and 13028NE300 (Sidi Dhawi) and with the files of visible material 13028NE301002 (re-used architectural elements) and 13028NE301003 (trapetum).

The most interesting data, however, comes from the area to the southwest of Uthina, which includes the villages of Sidi Ahmad, Hanshir Sidi Ahmad and Hanshir Al Minsi, in the lower valley of Oued Miliane, near the Tunis – El Fahs roadway, about 7 kilometers from Uthina itself. These traces are always oriented towards the northwest, similar to that registered for the landscape immediately related to Uthina but with a stronger inclination (approximately 55° N). This factor, in the absence of marked geomorphologic obstacles, could mean a certain independence of the area with respect to the surrounding territory. Numerous inscriptions, found in the past in the nearby Zaouia Khedima tend to place the Pagus Mercurialis Veteranorum Medelitanorum in the area, which had never been definitively located.

The union of the epigraphic data with the data deduced from the photo-interpretation led to the formulation of the theory of the location of the pagus, autonomously organized from an agrarian point of view with respect to the urban centre, precisely in the said area. A further ground verification was therefore required to confirm the correctness of the theory indicated above. The new survey, precise and systematic, evidenced numerous walled structures and fragments of Roman pottery shards datable to the end of the first century BC. Once correctly positioned within the GIS, the structures revealed the same orientation for the traces that in all probability were of an identified agricultural settlement (within which they appear to fit perfectly), for a further confirmation of the theory.


The sessions dedicated to theory – among which the “Training Course on Remote Sensing applied to archaeological surveys (17/11/1999 – 15/12/1999)”, organized in Turin in the Laboratory of Territorial Analyses of Centro Scavi, were followed by those dedicated to practice, with training on the use of the GPS instruments for positioning archaeological traces in the context of archaeological survey. The master, which took place in Tunisia in the area in question between ancient Uthina and current-day Bir M’sharga, dedicated several days to surveying the landscape, with the aim of compiling archaeological reports in situ to verify the functioning of the computerized system developed by the participants in the project, georeferencing through GPS the surveyed archaeological sites and starting a preliminary archaeological, topographic and geomorphologic survey.


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