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How Mathematics can be used to support Archeology?

Can Mathematics provide valuable support for Archeology?

Members of the Spanish COI have acted for a few months as true archaeologists.‬ ‪

They were based in Baetulo (the current Badalona), which is situated very close to the ancient Barcino (the current Barcelona), and cooperated in the work of mining the Roman ruins of a public building.


The mathematics that emerged, during the researches, have been of great help in the identification of the original uses of this ancient building (see photos 1 and 2): it was an important theatre where shows were held for years for the inhabitants of ancient Baetulo and surroundings.‬

 Figure 1 -  The archaeological excavation area (Badalona, Spain)

Figure 2 - A screenshot from the page of the c-book focusing on the area affected by archaeological excavations. This page includes links to Google Maps and to the website of Badalona’s local administration

From this work experience a new c-book unit has been produced, titled What is hiding in these ruins?   

“What is hiding in these ruins?” is an innovative c-book unit based on learning by inquiry from a problematic archaeological context where mathematics play a key role.‬

Students can learn maths while moving forward in the proposed research as if it were an adventure or a journey in ancient times (pictures here below provide a sneak peek of the proposed tasks).

Figure 3 - A screenshot from the c-book:  the task here is to validate the hypothesis formulated by using the Geogebra widget

Within the framework of classical architecture, which is the context of this c-book unit, creativity and mathematics represents connected and powerful tools to advance in the study of this topic. The widgets the students can find, as they go through the pages of each phase of the unit, are capable to provide them with useful information and facilitate the learning of mathematics.

The realness of the context and the need to formulate assumptions and to validate them with real tools contributes to provide students with a high motivation and certainty that they will end up immersed in the study of the geometry of the curved forms, obtaining truly meaningful learning.

The undertakings of this c-book, inspired by the research activities done by the Museum of Badalona, follow a narrative that tries to hold the students’ interest, as they progress in their inquiry of the main question suggested: which Roman public building could have formed part of the curved wall found in the archaeological excavation?


Figure 4 - An image from the book “De Architectura” by Vitruvius, the architect of the ancient Rome

In order to carry out the investigation, many links to primary references (such as the reproduction of the book written by Vitruvius, an architect of classical Rome) and secondary references are available, as well as interesting videos and other useful resources.
The proposed activities are explicitly thought to encourage the formulation of plausible conjectures due to "informed imagination" of students.

On this occasion, archaeological context offers an unusual opportunity to use mathematics — which is essential for discovering what building is hiding in the underground excavation site of the city —as a work tool, within reach of all students and closely connected to the reality of the proposed situation.

‪One of the things we are most proud of is the fact that thanks to this c-book unit, while doing maths, students can discover history!