Exploration in Ostia Antica reveals a larger port city for ancient Rome: discovery and preservation

I’ve been exca­vat­ing, study­ing, and teach­ing in Ostia Antica, Rome’s port city (and explor­ing Por­tus, a man-made dual har­bor con­structed by emper­ors Claudius and Tra­jan just north of Ostia) on and off for over over 10 years and fre­quent­ing the site for over 20 years.  Why? Quite sim­ply because it is a liv­ing lab­o­ra­tory and is the clear­est reflec­tion of what indus­tri­al­ized ancient Rome looked like.

It was with great dis­may that I found much of the ancient city under water this past Jan­u­ary and Feb­ru­ary, which shut down the site for a num­ber of weeks.  The site is still reel­ing from the Tiber River inun­da­tion; no solu­tion has been found, yet, to pre­vent it from hap­pen­ing again.  Con­ser­va­tion and site man­age­ment remain the high pri­or­ity for the super­in­ten­dency and MiBACT col­leagues of ALES, a con­ser­va­tion divi­sion of the Ital­ian Min­istry of Cul­ture, and a lot of work vis­i­bly is tak­ing place at Ostia today.  But more needs to be done at Ostia and Por­tus (a sep­a­rate archae­o­log­i­cal site).

In the mean­time, how­ever, recent inves­ti­ga­tions and dis­cov­er­ies at Ostia have made head­lines world­wide.  The direc­tor of the ter­ri­tory of Ostia dott.ssa Paola Ger­moni gave a recent sum­mary of the dis­cov­er­ies in and around Ostia Antica, includ­ing my Institute’s own inves­ti­ga­tions.  Over­all, the find­ings were made in lit­tle explored areas, like the right bank of the TIber (on Isola Sacra) and our dig site, out­side the city walls, part of the suburbium.

My Institute’s study con­cen­trates on the bend of the dried up sec­tion of the Tiber River (ulti­mately this por­tion of the Tiber River was devi­ated in the 1557 flood) leav­ing the active por­tion of the Tiber River today hun­dreds of meters away; our dig site in the “sub­ur­bium” of Ostia is close to the medieval Gre­go­ri­opo­lis and (much later) Renais­sance cas­tle in the Parco dei Ravennati.

The geo­phys­i­cal sur­vey of the area on Isola Sacra by Simon Keay of Southamp­ton and col­leagues from Cam­bridge, on the right bank, oppo­site the left bank which con­tains the bulk of the city of Ostia (forum, the­ater, major baths, neigh­bor­hoods, etc.) has yielded a new pic­ture of far more struc­tures than pre­vi­ously under­stood, and a sec­tion of city walls; Ostia was much larger than pre­vi­ously thought is the head­line.  To be sure, plenty of struc­tures on that side had been pre­vi­ously been revealed and noted in the past and marked on maps before the more recent urban build up there, but not to the extent of this thor­ough inves­ti­ga­tion, that should lead to some focused, lim­ited exca­va­tion.
What we we sum­ma­rize from these head­lines?   Where is archae­ol­ogy today?  The media, and the pub­lic still focus on the dis­cov­ery.  It’s part of human nature to explore and lit­er­ally unearth new infor­ma­tion about our col­lec­tive past.  In the case of Ostia, the sheer scale of what’s being explored (ware­houses– Keay, ships– Ger­moni, pos­si­ble late antique domus in the sub­ur­bium of Ostia– AIRC) is, indeed, astound­ing.  And this drive to learn con­tin­ues, but we must begin to tem­per this enthu­si­asm with a dose of real­ity, for as soon as we explore and unearth, we expose sites and and mon­u­ments to new con­di­tions that can rapidly dete­ri­o­rate them.  There needs to be a bet­ter plan.

In fact, in light of the recent destruc­tive effect from the unex­pected flood­ing of Ostia (and mind you the site has never been inun­dated like this before), that we seri­ously need to rethink about our val­ues and ideas about archae­ol­ogy and unearthing the past.  A huge com­po­nent that must become more preva­lent is pre­serv­ing that past.  This means con­ser­va­tion, invest­ing sig­nif­i­cant resources in daily main­te­nance, and engag­ing a large global audi­ence to par­tic­i­pate, with mul­ti­ple fund­ing sources devel­oped to sus­tain those efforts (and not just through pri­vate spon­sor­ship, mak­ing today’s head­lines.  I’m talk­ing about local com­mu­nity involve­ment and buy-in).  Oth­er­wise, we’ll find our­selves ever more fre­quently read­ing about the loss of her­itage, and not the dis­cov­ery of it.  (For my own ideas and goals for our Ostia dig in Parco dei Raven­nati, have a look at the fol­low­ing video by the US Embassy in Rome.)

Discussion Leave a comment Category Archaeology, Conservation, Culture, Documentaries, Excavation, Ostia Antica, Pompeii, Rome, Sponsorship

Happy Birthday, Augustus!

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The Splendors of Ancient Rome in 3D

I’m very excited to share the update on The Splen­dors of Ancient Rome, a 3-D doc­u­men­tary for Edu­ca­tional Broad­cast Sys­tem (EBS) South Korea where I appear as pre­sen­ter.  The doc­u­men­tary film will be air­ing May 5, 6 and 7 in one of Seoul’s famous cin­ema the­aters, and hope­fully I will get to see it.  I had a great time film­ing and am really proud to work with esteemed col­leagues at EBS and also Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, Ray Law­er­ence and Jorge Beste to talk about Ancient Rome.

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Social, Cultural Heritage

image1When I first signed up for clas­sics and archae­ol­ogy classes, I thought most of my time would be play­ing in the dirt, teach­ing, hang­ing out in libraries and the occa­sional con­fer­ences.  If you had asked me about the social side to acad­e­mia, I prob­a­bly would’ve laughed, maybe even made a joke about the Archaeologist’s cocktail/mosquito repel­lent Con­tinue read­ing

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Pyramid of Cestius under wraps

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Finally. The promised restora­tion project of the Augus­tan period Pyra­mid of Ces­tius has begun, with pri­vate Japan­ese funds. It took 330 days to con­struct the tomb, says the in situ inscrip­tion. Let’s see how long it takes to com­plete the project.

I will be post­ing pho­tos of the progress on my Insta­gram account @Saverome, Con­tinue read­ing

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Save the Gladiator Tomb, Sign the iPetition

Please join me in voic­ing your con­cern for sav­ing the Gladiator’s Tomb, a unique cul­tural her­itage site that runs the risk of being reburied per­ma­nently for lack of fund­ing.  Together with the AIRC, I am hop­ing to get 5,000 sig­na­tures on the iPe­ti­tion to save the Gladiator’s Tomb.

In 2008, on the Via Flaminia in the north­ern part of con­tem­po­rary Rome, archae­ol­o­gist found an impres­sive mar­ble mau­soleum, among other note­wor­thy tombs, along a well-preserved sec­tion of ancient road.  Con­tinue read­ing

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Beyond the Past: sponsoring cultural heritage in Rome

marforioThe other day, as I viewed the new exhibit, L’eta’ dell’equilibrio, in the Capi­to­line Muse­ums, I pleas­antly came across the ongo­ing con­ser­va­tion project of the Mar­forio statue in the court­yard of the Brac­cio Nuovo.   The colos­sal, reclin­ing river god became one of Rome’s most famous “talk­ing stat­ues” and was located in the Roman Forum before being trans­ferred to the Capi­to­line Hill.

The spon­sor is Swarovski, and its 100,000 euro con­tri­bu­tion rep­re­sents a new phe­nom­e­non that Con­tinue read­ing

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Digging through time

There is so much talk in the news– you can’t escape it– about the many hot new online edu­ca­tional sites.  These  include courses listed by uni­ver­si­ties (for exam­ple Yale and Stan­ford),  MITx, edX, Udac­ity, Cours­era, and TED lec­tures. but prob­a­bly none is hot­ter Khan Acad­emy, recently part­nered with SmartHis­tory, run by Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Har­ris.   After cor­re­spond­ing with them  on Twit­ter, I had the good for­tune to meet with them this past July and become a con­trib­u­tor for SmartHis­tory, Con­tinue read­ing

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Caligula: 1400 Days of Terror

Photo source: historychannel.com

Caligula: 1400 Days of Ter­ror has aired in the US on Octo­ber 9 and will air in Italy on Octo­ber 28.  I had a lot of fun film­ing this doc­u­men­tary in Rome and Her­cu­la­neum, and am proud to be part of a great group which includes col­leagues here in Rome: Valerie Hig­gins, Gabriel Radle and Katie Parla.

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Living History in Rome day by day

Liv­ing in Rome has proved to be an excit­ing adven­ture over the past 20 years, more inter­est­ing than I could have imag­ined. Now, as the sum­mer sea­son is upon us– with sev­eral over­lap­ping pro­grams and a slew of doc­u­men­taries to film– I can’t help but reflect on the many ways I get to live his­tory daily in Rome.

Latin dead? Con­tinue read­ing

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