Roman archaeology

The Gabii Project: Archaeology in The Information Age

Racel Opitz demonstrates use of the tablets to students .

Racel Opitz demonstrates use of the tablets to students .

Rachel Opitz doesn’t dig much at Gabii, but rather records. Leading a core team of four, her topography, data entry, and photogrammetric modelling unit is tasked with the construction of a digital database on a large scale.

“We have scale issues,” Rachel chuckles, “Well, they’re not issues because the method works.”

Rachel’s team has implemented strategies and introduced technologies aimed at increasing efficiency within The Gabii Project to support a large open area excavation. They upgrade software and propose new methods nearly every field season. Most recently, Rachel brought tablet technology to the scene, replacing almost all of the paper recording formerly done in the trenches with direct to digital recording on Panasonic ToughPads and Android tablets, linked in real-time to the project’s ARK database and GIS system.

“One of the reasons we were able to open such a large excavation area as is that the recording is just so fast,” Rachel states plainly. “You can answer very different archaeological questions working at this scale”

Several forms of digital recording can be uploaded and processed in real-time using the current configuration.

Several forms of digital recording can be uploaded and processed in real-time using the current configuration.

The Gabii Project isn’t the only dig using digital recording. Excavations at Çatalhöyük and Pompeii—to name a couple high-profile cases—are also making use of similar systems, and such methods have been increasingly adopted in recent years. In Rachel’s opinion, what sets The Gabii Project apart is Program Director Nicola Terrenato’s insistence on using these systems extensively from the beginning.

“More and more people are doing some variant on what we’re doing, and that’s a good thing. Of course we try to stay at the forefront, so five years from now we’ll be doing something totally different.”

 

You can follow Rachel’s work at: http://gabiiserver.adsroot.itcs.umich.edu/gabiigoesdigital/

The Gabii Project: A Moment With the Field Directors

Gabii Project Managing and Field Directors Marcello Mogetta and Anna Gallone visit Area F to see how things are going.

Gabii Project Managing and Field Directors Marcello Mogetta and Anna Gallone visit Area F to see how things are going.

Greetings from Gabii! As we are a large excavation, it will be my job today to gather reports from our staff and post their impressions of the work they do here and of archaeology in general. But first, a little bit about us…

The Gabii Project is an excavation and field school run jointly with The University of Michigan and The University of Verona. We are excavating the Ancient Latin city of Gabii, about 20 km East of Rome. The city grew alongside Rome through the first millennium, BC, and into the 3rd century AD, when it was finally abandoned. Throughout its existence, the city underwent many of the same changes as its more famous neighbor except for one crucial point: it hasn’t been developed further. This fact allows us pure excavation of the site, without millennia of modernization stacked atop it.

But today, we focus less on the story of the site, and more on those who have cultivated it. First, we have Managing and Field Directors Marcello Mogetta, and Anna Gallone…

Anna Gallone and Marcello Mogetta taking a quick break.

Anna Gallone and Marcello Mogetta taking a quick break.

“Archaeology is one of the best activities ever,” begins Marcello, “because you have the feeling of discovery; I guess that’s what drives us despite the effort, the grueling conditions associated with digs.”

At The Gabii Project, however, Marcello’s work is mainly administrative. As a so-called “big dig,” there is a lot of logistical work to be done not only on-site, dealing with safety concerns, and choosing where to dig and where to spend money, but also during the off season where securing permits, writing and submitting papers, and choosing new staff take precedence.

“The important point to realize is that these are not isolated tasks,” maintains Marcello, “It’s so linked together… and this is not something that starts on June 1st and ends on August 1st, it continues throughout the off season.”

“What happens here in five weeks is the result of ten months of preparation,” Chimes in Anna, whose work is also primarily logistical.

Even with all of the preparations and planning, the two are still very busy during the field season. This affords the two little time to participate in the actual fieldwork, their real passion. While they do make time to buck this trend where they can—such as when they lead the excavation of a lead sarcophagus in 2009—the two long for their days working in the field.

“Our secret dream is to go work as volunteers in another field school, with fewer responsibilities,” Marcello half-jokes, with Anna adding: “Back to the old days, when the only thing that really mattered was excavating a layer correctly and finding something cool.”

Anna Gallone and Marcello Mogetta snag a rare moment to join the active excavation

Anna Gallone and Marcello Mogetta snag a rare moment to join the active excavation

Regardless of the desire to get back out to the field, both are fiercely proud of The Gabii Project and their roles therein. In fact, both of their favorite parts of the program have to do with its inherent structure.

“I’ve been a field archaeologist for 20 years now,” states Anna. “I have never ever seen a site with so many people working together at the same time on so many different aspects.”

As for Marcello, “The project is constantly evolving, I mean the way we started six years ago, you would hardly recognize it. In a way, this is like a living organism, growing and changing, so I’m very curious to see what this is going to look like in 10 years.”

Forvm MMX at Cástulo (Linares, Jaén, Spain) – Day of Archaeology

The excavation team of FORVM MMX at Cástulo.

The Forvm MMX excavation team at Cástulo. (Copyright Forvm MMX)

Para una versión de esta página en español, haga clic aquí.

Years of work, effort, and dedication have borne fruit in the form of a project that has exceeded expectations and gone beyond previous limitations of excavation in classical archaeology. The rebirth of Cástulo is now a fact. This ancient city, which was once the capital of the Iberian region of Oretania, has returned to life. The walls of the city’s buildings and the spaces where its population lived are rising from their slumber. We’re beginning to see Cástulo as a living space, a city whose streets can be walked, a meeting-place, a place where people from different cultures and nationalities can share unique and unforgettable experiences.
The Cástulo Archaeological Group (Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo), which joins together the site and the Archaeological Museum of Linares, manages a total of 3,141 hectares, including parts of the municipalities of Linares, Lupión, and Torreblascopedro. In 1972, the group came under state control, and since 1984 it has been part of the Andalusian Cultural Council. The urban center covers 76.5 hectares of public property. It is surrounded by fortifications measuring four kilometers in length, which even today preserves both walls and towers. The city dominated a crossroads, called the Salto Castulonensis, between the upper Guadalquivir River and the Meseta plateau of central Spain.
Cástulo reached its greatest prominence during the Second Punic War, between the Romans and the Carthaginians, one of the key moments in the history of the western Mediterranean. The city controlled the mineral resources of the Sierra Morena. It became the capital of the Iberian region of Oretania, then a Roman municipium with the right to coin its own money. Later on, in the later Empire, it became the seat of a bishop.
Currently, excavation efforts are being undertaken by the archaeological team of Forvm MMX. We’ve focused our work on a series of objectives that cover all phases of the site’s occupation and the most important zones of the city. The first part of the project has been to locate the forum of the Roman city of Cástulo – the meeting point and core of everyday life and of Roman civilization. The second part is the excavation of the northern gate, which, from a figurative standpoint, forms the link between antiquity and modern times. Our other plans include locating the pre-Roman Iberian city (the largest on the Iberian peninsula); investigating the river port of Cástulo, mentioned in classical texts and the last navigable port on the upper Guadalquivir, as a practical example of a crossroads for ancient trade between civilizations); investigating the last bastion of Cástulo, the thirteenth-century castle of St. Euphemia; and, finally, studying a Phoenician temple, discovered by earlier archaeological work beside the river, as a place of worship and of Near Eastern influence.


As you can see from the video above, Forvm MMX is bringing together the necessary tools from every discipline for the rebirth of Cástulo. This project signifies a resurgence not only from an archaeological point of view, with the recovery of lost history from the soil, but also from a social point of view, since it includes broad community involvement and a focus on the sustainability of our work.

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Detail of the Cupid mosaic from Cástulo

Detail of the extraordinary Cupid mosaic from Cástulo. (Copyright Forvm MMX) For high-resolution images, click here.


Rebecca Jones (Historic Scotland) – Scottish Borders

Borders ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Borders ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Rebecca Jones, Historic Scotland

Rebecca Jones, Historic Scotland

Carry on Camping in the Scottish Borders

I’m Rebecca Jones and I used to work at RCAHMS but since August 2012 have been on secondment to Historic Scotland where I am now Head of Archaeology Strategy.

I have picked what appear to be a series of empty fields in the Scottish Borders, not far from Lauder on a hill above the Leader Water. These unassuming fields, now home to various sheep and crops, once held an army of around 40,000 Roman soldiers and probably the Emperor Septimius Severus and his entourage campaigning in Scotland in the early 3rd century AD with the specific aim of completing the conquest of Britannia (he did not succeed…).

All that we can see now at St Leonards is the differential growth of crops over the buried features (‘cropmarks’), best recorded through aerial photography.

North-east side of camp and one of its entrances, together with a settlement and enclosure which intersect the camp’s perimeter. Copyright RCAHMS (SC882008)

North-east side of camp and one of its entrances, together with a settlement and enclosure which intersect the camp’s perimeter. Copyright RCAHMS (SC882008)

We can recognise these linear cropmarks as being of Roman origin due to their characteristics: rounded corners, entrance gaps protected by additional stretches of ditch. In the case of St Leonards, this camp site lies close to the Dere Street Roman road, midway between two probably similar sized camps at Newstead (near Melrose) and Channelkirk (near Oxton). At 173 acres / 70 hectares, it is the largest camp recorded in the Roman Empire in Europe. Larger camps have recently been discovered in Syria: these may not have held a larger number of troops than St Leonards but perhaps needed a buffer within the perimeter to counter the threat of hostile Syrian archers.

Plan of St Leonards. ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Plan of St Leonards. ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Archaeology has a challenge when it comes to enthusing people about buried remains that they cannot see, particularly if there is no excavation in progress to show the depth of the ditches dug around the perimeter of the campsite, the fragmentary remains of ovens where they baked their meals and the rubbish and latrine pits where they disposed of… well, anything needing disposal! Yet we can fire imaginations by inviting our audiences to conjure up images of rows upon rows of tents housing soldiers who originated from around the Empire and spoke a variety of languages, not just Latin. The Emperor Septimius himself was from Libya in Northern Africa. We don’t know for definite that Septimius was here – we have no dating evidence from the site – but the most likely context for such a huge camp is the presence of the Emperor and his bodyguards and administration. I certainly love the idea that, for a few days and nights at least, the whole of the Roman Empire was run from these fields in the Borders.

This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.

 

Peter McKeague (RCAHMS) – East Dunbartonshire

East Dunbartonshire ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

East Dunbartonshire ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

My name is Peter McKeague and I work in the Data and Recording team in the Survey and Recording group at RCAHMS.  As Data and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) project manager, I am involved in a wide range of projects documenting Scotland’s rich heritage and presenting it online through Canmore. I am interested in how developments in information technology help our public and professional users discover more about the historic environment around them.

In 2008 I was involved in helping colleagues research and prepare maps supporting the successful nomination of the Antonine Wall as part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site.

 

‘To the NE of Glasgow, the Antonine Wall snakes through the modern landscape of Bearsden.  Two short stretches of the wall are visible at New Kilpatrick cemetery and visitors may also explore the remains of the Roman Bath House at Bearsden, part of the Roman fort now buried under houses.’ ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

To the NE of Glasgow, the Antonine Wall snakes through the modern landscape of Bearsden.  Two short stretches of the wall are visible at New Kilpatrick cemetery and visitors may also explore the remains of the Roman Bath House at Bearsden, part of the Roman fort now buried under houses

Built under the orders of the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius in AD 140s, the Antonine Wall formed the north-western frontier of the Roman Empire for a generation. Cutting across Scotland, between the Firth of Forth at Bo’ness and the Clyde at Bowling, the frontier is 37 miles long. The Antonine Wall has a turf-built rampart, in front of which is a flat area, or berm, separating the rampart from a deep ditch with a further mound beyond.  A series of forts occur at intervals along the Wall and those at Rough Castle, Bar Hill and Castle Cary may be visited.  The outline of a fortlet is set out to the west of Kinneil House. Bath houses may be seen at Bar Hill and at Bearsden. About a third of the Antonine Wall is still visible with stretches at Callendar House, Seabegs Wood and  Watling Lodge and by Rough Castle and Castle Cary Roman Forts.

However, I have chosen the two short sections of wall footing on display at New Kilpatrick Cemetery, Bearsden to illustrate the frontier.  Although closely spaced, the two sections mark a change in direction of the wall as it skirts round the contours of the hillside.  The exposed sections show the stone base, on which the rampart was built providing a rare insight into the construction of the rampart. The rampart base consists of carefully dressed kerbstones with rough boulder infill punctuated by stone-lined drainage culverts.  These two short sections present a very different view from the upstanding earthworks surviving elsewhere along the wall.

 

The stone footings of the Antonine Wall, New Kilpatrick Cemetery, Bearsden, viewed from west. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1340570)

The stone footings of the Antonine Wall, New Kilpatrick Cemetery, Bearsden, viewed from west. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1340570)

Beyond the cemetery wall, the frontier survives as a very slight earthwork and infilled ditch.

Culverts through the base of the wall helped drainage and prevented ponding of water against the rampart. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1340589)

Culverts through the base of the wall helped drainage and prevented ponding of water against the rampart. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1340589)

This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.

Digging into the Social History of Archaeology at Verulamium

hypocaust currently in Verulamium Park

Hypocaust currently in Verulamium Park

The museum archaeologist’s lot can be varied and since being restructured to the role of Collections Manager my role is broader than pure archaeology. However, this has given me the scope to develop some really interesting and exciting projects and one of them is to do oral history interviews with as many archaeologists who have dug on our site at Verulamium as I can. There are several aspects to this project, a bit of hunting around and trying to track people down, then going along and interviewing them using our digital Marantz recorder and then coming back to the museum transcribing interviews.In the morning I found myself looking through the transcript of an interview in order to try to find some quotes to go with historic photographs. I’m slowly pulling together all of this research for a book which I hope to publish, we have interviews with archaeologists who worked with Mortimer Wheeler right the way through to our present day District Archaeologist. Many of today’s most respected archaeologists worked at Verulamium and these interviews are a record of their experience, life as a digging archaeologist and the town at the time.It’s fascinating work, not the least seeing some of our most interesting and exciting objects being excavated. For example, the image to the top left is from the 1930’s of the hypocaust currently in Verulamium Park
and here is one of the excavators talking about it:

“…we were all rather excited about the hypocaust… and I was one of those who had the fortunate opportunity to crawl along the channel, under the pavement, between the pilae which supported it. I struck matches to see where I was going, and found myself under the centre of the mosaic…”
Helen Carlton-Smith 1980

Another aspect of my work is to work on the museum documentation system. I am currently trying to improve the records by adding photographs and as much additional information about objects as I can. The afternoon was spent taking photographs of metal medieval and post medieval artefacts and then integrating them into the database.Of course, in between this there was the usual stream of public enquiries which are rich, varied and interesting. I tracked down a map which detailed all the WWII air raid shelters in St Albans and did a bit of research on the local dairy for someone. I was also part of the team which considered some new objects for acquisition- some historic CND banners.I often wonder what an oral history interview with me would sound like in fifty years!