Cross-Campus Team Uses Digital Technology to Reconstruct Historic Cemetery

USF researchers are employing 3D imaging technology such as terrestrial laser scanning to develop a digital recreation of the historic Tolomato Cemetery.

USF researchers are employing 3D imaging technology such as terrestrial laser scanning to develop a digital recreation of the historic Tolomato Cemetery.

(May 1, 2019) – Researchers from USF St. Petersburg and USF Tampa are employing 3D imaging technology to develop a digital recreation of the historic Tolomato Cemetery in St. Augustine, Florida.

The resulting 3D model will be used by preservationists to assess the current conditions of the site and to serve as a reference to monitor impacts from natural events and pollution, providing guidelines for restoration and reconstruction in the case of damages.

“We are excited to embark on a project designed to document, preserve and interpret this remarkable site,” said Michael Francis, Director of USF St. Petersburg’s La Florida: The Interactive Digital Archives of the Americas.

Originally the site for a Franciscan mission, Tolomato was used as a cemetery dating back to Florida’s British period between 1763-1783. More than a thousand people are buried at the cemetery, including people from Spain, Cuba, Minorca, Ireland, Greece, Haiti, France and various parts of the African continent.

Earlier this week, Rachel Sanderson, Associate Director of La Florida, joined Davide Tanasi, Director of the Institute for Digital Exploration (IDEx) at USF Tampa, and his team at Tolomato to create the digital reconstruction. They employed imaging technologies such as terrestrial laser scanning, and applied texture mapping techniques to monuments and tombstones to enhance the readability of inscriptions that are currently illegible to preserve them for future generations.

Ultimately, the 3D model of the landscape together with the individual 3D models of all the cemetery’s monuments will be integrated with archival data about death records to create an interactive tour of the Tolomato cemetery.

“The use of the 3D model for on-site and an online virtual reality experience will provide more inclusive public engagement and global accessibility,” said Tanasi.

This project marks the beginning of the scientific partnership between La Florida, which uses interactive maps and digital reconstructions to bring to life the significant events and diverse cultures that made up early Spanish Florida, and IDEx, which uses digital tools to preserve cultural heritage for future generations. The field work to develop the digital reconstruction is supported by the Tolomato Cemetery Preservation Association.

“We believe this collaboration will be the first of many research projects that further bridge USF Tampa and USF St Pete, bringing scholars and students together to preserve and share Florida’s rich history with a global audience,” said Francis.