Forty-five feet beneath the Teatro dell’Opera (National Opera House) in Rome — the site where the Circus Maximus stood during the days of the Roman Empire — lies the Mitreo, a temple of the god Mithras. Little is known about Mithras and his followers; no texts have survived, and archaeologists depend on the artifacts found in well-preserved temples like this one to understand how Mithraism and other pagan religions fared in the early years of the Christian era. Today, researchers from Politecnico di Milano, one of Italy’s most important scientific-technical universities, are using a modern — and simple — Internet of Things (IoT) solution to help preserve and study this ancient history.
Like many fragile archaeological sites, the Mitreo is accessible only through special tours or appointments, making it difficult to study its environmental conditions continually. Archaeologists needed to determine whether humidity, temperature and other environmental factors were damaging the temple’s ancient friezes and sculptures without disrupting the site through frequent visits. By combining smart sensor technology with Azure IoT data analytics, archaeologists can remotely track environmental conditions and prevent further damage or deterioration to the site.
Politecnico di Milano had developed smart sensors to place throughout the Mitreo, and needed an end-to-end technology solution that could relay and process sensor data in the cloud. Researchers chose Microsoft Azure because it was simple enough for a small team of nonengineers to manage daily.
“We tried several solutions and found that many cloud-based IoT platforms are overly complicated for what they do,” says Luca Mottola, associate professor and director of the Networked Embedded Software Lab at Politecnico di Milano, and one of the senior advisors to the project team. “Among the possible options, Azure was the best choice to get this done.”
Now the team can identify ongoing environmental problems, such as high humidity, or fluctuations in temperature or ground movement, to determine what must be done to protect the site. Because the solution is simple to use and can easily scale to larger sites, the team is making plans to implement similar projects at sites in Milan and Turin.
“Once this technology is a bit more simplified, the archeologists won’t need us anymore,” says Mottola. “They will do it by themselves.”