A view from above: aerial photography at Portus

This year’s Day of Archaeology coincides with the final day of the 2014 Portus Project field school excavations. This is the second year that the University of Southampton (www.southampton.ac.uk/archaeology) and the British School at Rome have run this training course for students from throughout the world. What brings us together is our interest in the maritime trade of Rome in the Mediterranean, the hub of which was the Imperial port of Rome, now a few kilometres inland from the coastline next to Rome’s international airport at Fiumicino.

The final day of excavation for the students was all about recording and checking excavation documentation, as there always seems to be 1 or 2 outstanding context sheets, however hard you try! My role within the project is to support the excavation through surveying, for which we use a range of techniques.

One recording technique that has become fundamental to the excavation, due to its size and complexity, is low level aerial photography. This Friday we were using a cherry picker in order to take oblique photographs of the excavation as well as vertical photographs, both of which are fundamental for standard recording as well as photogrammetry.

Portus Project Cherry Picker photography

Simon Keay (Portus Project Director) and Renato Sebastiani (Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma) viewing the 2014 excavations from a cherry picker

We’ve been using a range of photographic techniques on site this season (see James Milespost. As the project was running an online MOOC at the same time as the excavation, we’ve tried to help participants by providing located 360 panoramic photographs (using a Motrr).

Aerial Photograph using a Motrr

Panoramic aerial photograph of 2014 Portus Project Excavations (taken using a Motrr)

One area that we are exploring is regular low level site photography using a drone. We’re now using a DJI Innovations S800 Spreading Wings for our photography, mounted with a Sony DS-HSX300.

Portus Project DJI Innovations drone

The DJI Innovations Spreading Wings S800 being used to record the Opus Spicatum floor of the Palazzo Imperiale

We’ll be do more recording this forthcoming week, using the drone to photograph the new findings in the shipyard and the Imperial Palace.

Digging in Segni

The 26th July is the 5th day of excavation in a 4 week season of the Segni Project. Established in 2012, the 3 year joint research by the British School at Rome and the Museo Archeologico di Segni, co-directed by Francesco Maria Cifarelli and Christopher Smith, aims to explore the urban development of this important Latin town, from its establishment in the Archaic period through to the medieval period. This morning, the 20-strong team of volunteers is divided over two excavation sites, one in the heart of Segni in Piazza Santa Maria and one on the edge of the acropolis at Prato Felici. Over the course of the day I will be moving between each site, overseeing the excavations together with my Italian colleague Federica.

At the site of Prato Felici the team, supervised by Camilla, is following on from the initial exploratory work we undertook last year. Following a combined geophysical survey, which used magnetometry, resistivity and georadar, clearance was made of a wall whose crest was visible on the surface. Nothing is previously known about the site, with hypothesises ranging from a substructure to a temple complex, similar to that of Juno Moneta close by. Despite the searing heat, the team is making fantastic progress after only 4 days. All sides of the structure have now been located, revealing a building that covers an area of 13 x 37m. Early indications suggest a function associated to water, due to a thick floor in cocciopesto and a raised boarder that runs around the edge of the room. Two teams of students, from UK and other European Universities, are working on emptying a small area, which a test trench last year suggests was back-filled in the 2nd century AD. Above this team, as the site lies on a considerable slope, another group is exploring the area to the west of the structure, to see if it continues further. Finally, to the south of the building another group is exploring the stratigraphy that lies under and beyond the south wall. Last year a small test trench revealed layers dating to the Bronze Age, the first time this material has been found in context in Segni.

Excavation 2013

Excavation 2013

At the excavation in Piazza Santa Maria, the team is working on enlarging the excavation of 2012. The aims of the excavation are two fold: firstly to assess whether the square was the area of the Roman Forum and secondly whether it was the location of the earlier medieval cathedral. Last year the excavation, following on from the successful georadar survey, revealed a number of walls and floors, and most interestingly a well preserved polychrome mosaic. Today the team are working on removing the more modern stratigraphy, associated to various phases of the relaying of the square. This also involves emptying out modern service trenches, the pipelines in which will be moved outside the excavation by the water board on Monday. Over the next few weeks the team will focus on removing the metre of stratigraphy that overlies the mosaic, with the aim of revealing the full room of this probable domus.

The excavation at end of the 2012 season

The excavation at end of the 2012 season

My day is spent to-ing and fro-ing between the 2 sites, discussing the stratigraphy and finds with the volunteers. The interest and enthusiasm of the students reminds me why I still love digging: the sense of discovery is irreplaceable. And what a perfect place to do it: the landscape and view from Segni is stunning, and the local community welcoming and intrigued. I look forward to being in the same place next year!