While I spend many of my days as a pottery specialist handling lots of pretty objects, today is a statistics day. Quantification is a vital tool for inter-site comparison so lots of time is spent trawling through our databases. At the moment I’m looking at a City site near the location of the Roman forum with an assemblage totalling a mere 24,000 sherds. I’m also returning to DUA reports (Department of Urban Archaeology for those who remember) for comparative data from a nearby site.
I’m having a lovely lunch amongst the roses in the garden behind St Pauls church in Covent Garden. It’s a welcome break from the basement nearby where we are working, where there are two machines, a concrete cutter and a team of guys trying to install the steel framework for a new ground floor along with building the foundations for a new staircase as the building is being refurbished. The floor of the basement is being lowered as part of the refurbishment, so we’re on site excavating any surviving archaeology below the existing basement floor.
We’re right in the heart of Middle Saxon London here, but most of today so far has been spent digging some 17th century pits. I’m saving up the Saxon gravel quarry pits for this afternoon! If our basement had been just a little shallower we might have had buildings and streets surviving, but all that’s left of them are fragments that have slumped into the soft fills of the pits, a tantalising glimpse of the town that stood here around 1300 years ago.
8am. I found myself on a building site, in a dank basement peering down a 2m deep hole, wielding both a torch and a hand tape as I valiantly attempted to record a late medieval barrel-lined well and a medieval quarry pit that were visible in section. This was challenging to say the least as I wasn’t about to enter a deep, unshored foundation trench – safety first! In addition to my usual hard hat, safety boots and gloves, I was also wearing ear defenders and a dust mask, as they were breaking out concrete nearby; all you could see of my face were my eyes. A few snaps for the archaeological record later and I could be found slowly sinking into the spoil heap waving a metal detector around, listening for the beep that would indicate a potentially exciting small find. Unfortunately, all I seemed to detect today were the iron girders supporting the existing building. I did my best to wipe off the mud caking my steel-toe capped boots, but still felt guilty once I had climbed out of the basement and seen that the site cleaner had just finished vacuuming the construction site office.
I left site at 9.30am and caught a bus to the office. I’ve never managed to travel light as an archaeologist, but today I felt like a packhorse as I carted: my rucksack, the site records, camera, half-metre scale and metal detector to the bus stop. If you were walking through the City of London this morning and were almost taken out by an over-laden, slightly disheveled individual with hard-hat hair wearing a grubby pair of jeans – I can only apologise.
Present time. After a cup of tea and a catch-up (ok, ok – gossip) with my colleagues, I’ve settled down to write this post before starting work on a geotechnical watching brief report for a site I finished a few weeks ago. As thrilling as that sounds, I may need some chocolate biscuits for motivation. Does anyone want anything from the Co-op?
L’archeologia è lo studio del passato per conoscere il nostro presente. L’archeologia in una città come Roma, la capitale di uno dei più grandi imperi dell’antichità, presenta sfaccettature, documentazioni, dati di grandissima rilevanza e di una quantità praticamente indefinita.
L’archeologia urbaba di una città come Roma vive in un arco temporale di quasi 3000 anni di vita continuata, che va dalla preistoria e protostoria dei popoli italici fino ai giorni nostri, dove le continue trasformazioni dell’assetto urbanistico contribuiscono a creare un nuovo strato di storia.
Studiare l’archeologia di Roma significa confrontarsi con una complessissima stratigrafia di scavo, che richiede grande perizia e grande ordine metodologico, con documentazione letteraria, grafica ed epigrafica di milioni di parole. Ricostruirne l’assetto urbanistico e territoriale è materia complessa, difficile: si pensi a tutte le zone della città coperte da costruzioni moderne, erette nel medioevo e nel Rinascimento quando ancora non era diffusa la pratica di conservare documentazione di ciò che si distruggeva, che si seppelliva, che si occultava per sempre. Un lavoro certosino di ricostruzione di un mosaico composto da poche tessere, che una volta messe al loro posto sveleranno “arcani” segreti dell’antica vita civile romana.
Così, si passa dai racconti degli antichi storici ed “antiquari” latini, attraverso epigrafi, dati di scavo, per arrivare all’immensa documentazione medievale conservata negli archivi della città. Nei casi più fortunati potremo ricostruire persino la vita quotidiana di molti personaggi del passato (naturalmente coloro che costituivano la crema della società cittadina), “detriti” rispetto alla finalità ma di importanza fondamentale per conoscere l’evoluzione del passato.
L’archeologia è così tra le discipline più multidisciplinari che si possano praticare: oltre a tutto ciò ci si deve confrontare con la paleobotanica, la zoologia, la geologia, l’informatica, e molto altro. Prospezioni geofisiche per indagare il sottosuolo senza toccarlo, carotaggi per scoprire la sedimentazione stratigrafica di millenni di vita; la fotografia per osservare monumenti non più esistenti.
Porto ad esempio un caso pratico, relativo ad uno dei monumenti più significativi della romanità, l’Anfiteatro Flavio, meglio noto come Colosseo. Lo studio architettonico svela i segreti dell’edificio; lo studio della documentazione epigrafica ha tramandato l’organizzazione “sociale” di questo luogo di spettacoli, la documentazione medievale custodisce i segreti di come questo monumento ha attraversato i secoli, le analisi geologiche hanno consentito di ricostruire l’antico andamento del terreno prima che i Romani intervenissero con i loro sbancamenti (Nerone prima ed i Flavi poi). In futuro, gli archeologi si dovranno confrontare anche con gli scavi della metro B e con le distruzioni operate da Mussolini per la costruzione di via dei Fori Imperiali (con l’abbattimento della Velia e del quartiere Alessandrino su tutti). Gli scavi operati dall’Università “La Sapienza” sulle pendici del Palatino e sulla valle hanno infine riportato alla luce contesti sacrali e abitativi che dal VII sec. a.C. disegnano la storia di un centro nevralgico della Roma antica e moderna.
La straordinarietà dell’archeologia si dipana così in tutto il suo splendore: coglierne le sfaccettature è il compito dell’archeologo, difficile, a volte ingrato, a volte anche sconfortante, ma quando si giunge al termine del lavoro e le tessere del mosaico sono tutte tornate al proprio posto, allora si che il proprio animo di riempie di gioia e meglio comprendiamo qual’è il nostro ruolo nel mondo.
Nel prossimo post introdurrò il lettore nella tipica giornata di un archeologo romano, alle prese con il progetto di Dottorato su un monumento della città.
Summary of this article in english
Archaeology is the study of the past to know the our present. The archaeology of Rome, the biggest city of ancient empires: the data has a great relevance and is pratically undefinable. Rome has a 3000 years of continued life: from prehistoric to modern era. The study of archaeology in Rome is based on a very complex stratigraphy, on a great quantity of literature, epigraphy, engravings. Also the urban asset is complex: in a great number of cases the modern constructions overlap the past. We need to reconstruct this asset by place the pieces in the correct position. Ancient Historians and antiquarians, epigraphy, digs, medieval documentation in the archives.
The archaeology is the multidisciplinary way: paleobotany, zoology, geology, informatics, and much more. Geophysical and coring to know the unknown; photography to observe monuments that no longer exist.
This is the archaeology: a complex and very difficult job, but when the pieces are all in the correct position, our mind expands to infinity and we understand why we are here, in this world.
In the next entry I’ll introduce the typical day for Roman archaeologist, that study a monument in the Urbs in the PhD project. Stay tuned.
In what has turned out to be a day of coincidences, I have had a lovely surprise. A fat envelope containing the proofs of my forthcoming LAMAS article landed on our office doormat. I promise that this was not all planned in advance in some sort of dodgy attempt to make my Day of Archaeology sound more interesting!
My name is Guy Hunt. I am a partner at L – P : Archaeology, a British commercial archaeology practice. I have been with L – P since 1999 which is now starting to seem like quite a long time ago. My day to day work usually involves a mix of project management, website and digital archaeology and quite a bit of time spent at a desk. I have also just become a dad, so after a couple of weeks of paternity leave I have come back to a lot of work that I need to catch up on. (If you are expecting an email from me… and are reading this post thinking “why the blooming hell is Guy writing this and not replying to me!” don’t despair, I promise to be up to date by the end of Monday.)
This afternoon it was time to turn to something a little more archaeological, taking a look at those proofs. This is the (almost) final point in the life of a project that started out 12 years ago when I first joined L – P. The site is now the Grange City Hotel, but will always be known to us as “Cooper’s Row” (AKA: Coopers, Cooperz, Das Coop or Coopers la Rue). The site is located at the eponymous Cooper’s Row, at the eastern fringe of the City of London.
Despite an impressively roomy sounding 18,000 words this article is actually an incredibly ‘boiled down’ account of the archaeology of the site. The publication is the culmination of the work of hundreds of people, most of whom are sadly not mentioned by name in the article. The site includes a write up and synthesis of 4 sites (ASQ87, CPW99, CPQ03 and CRZ06). On top of the archaeological evidence from those sites, the paper also wraps up the current state of knowledge about the city wall in this area and prints two brand new elevation drawings of the wall.
ASQ87 was excavated over 20 years ago by the then Department of Urban Archaeology of the Museum of London (DUA) and the fact that I could go back and revive the records from this site is a testament to the quality of the original recording and record keeping. CPW99 was excavated in 1999 and 2000 by AOC archaeology, supervised by Diccon Hart who also supervised the CPQ03 site, this time directly for L – P. Diccon wrote up the stratigraphic sequences for both of these sites, doing all of the stratigraphic analysis (heavy duty number crunching!) as well as writing up the group narrative.
On top of the stratigraphic analysis, there was a huge range of material from all of the different specialists. To name just a few of the specialists, who hail mostly from the Museum of London: pottery (Lyn Blackmore & Amy Thorpe), registered finds (Geoff Egan and Angela Wardle) animal bones (Kevin Reilly). My job was to bring all of this material together and to try to hang it onto the framework provided by Chris Phillpott’s report on the documentary sources available for Cooper’s Row. As well as the text, our own GIS people Andy Dufton and Jess Ogden mangled our plans into gorgeous looking drawings. Finally Pete Rowsome did a very very well needed edit to the text adding detail and giving a well deserved ‘haircut’ to the shaggy parts.
So there you go, I wrote nearly 700 words and I didn’t even get a chance to thank any of the wonderful diggers and back office staff who made all this possible. Let me be absolutely clear: without you, none of this would be possible!
It’s great to see these proofs looking so lovely… and I am relieved to say, needing very little editing… now where is my pudding?