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A team, led by Cambridge’s Professor Martin Millett and Professor Simon Keay (Southampton), has been conducting a survey of an area of land lying between Ostia and another Roman port called Portus – both about thirty miles from Rome. The work has been undertaken as part of the Southampton led ‘Portus Project’, in collaboration with the British School at Rome and the Soprintendenza Speciale per I Beni Archeologici di Roma.
Millett said: “The results of our work completely transform our understanding of one of the key cities of the Roman Empire. The enormous scale of the newly discovered warehouses will require a rethinking about the scale of commerce passing through the port. The results also illustrate yet again the power of contemporary survey methods in providing important new evidence about even very well-known archaeological sites.”
Previously, scholars thought that the Tiber formed the northern edge of Ostia, but this new research, using geophysical survey techniques to examine the site, has shown that Ostia’s city wall also continued on the other side of the river. The researchers have shown this newly discovered area enclosed three huge, previously unknown warehouses – the largest of which was the size of a football pitch.
Director of the Portus Project, Professor Simon Keay, said: “Our research not only increases the known area of the ancient city, but it also shows that the Tiber bisected Ostia, rather than defining its northern side.The presence of the warehouses along the northern bank of the river provides us with further evidence for the commercial activities that took place there in the first two centuries.”
The researchers have been using an established technique known as magnetometry, which involves systematically and rapidly scanning the landscape with small handheld instruments in order to identify localised magnetic anomalies relating to buried ancient structures. These are then mapped out with specialised computer software, providing images similar to aerial photographs, which can be interpreted by archaeologists.
In antiquity, the landscape in this recent study was known as the Isola Sacra and was surrounded by a major canal to the north, the river Tiber to the east and south, and the Tyrrhenian sea to the west. At the southernmost side of the Isola Sacra, the geophysical survey revealed very clear evidence for the town wall of Roman Ostia, interspersed by large towers several metres thick, and running east to west for about half a kilometre. In an area close by, known to archaeologists as the Trastevere Ostiense, the team also found very clear evidence for at least four major buildings.
Professor Keay added: “Three of these buildings were probably warehouses that are similar in layout to those that have been previously excavated at Ostia itself, however the newly discovered buildings seem to be much larger. In addition, there is a massive 142 metre by 110 metre fourth building – composed of rows of columns running from north to south, but whose function is unknown.
“Our results are of major importance for our understanding of Roman Ostia and the discoveries will lead to a major re-think of the topography of one of the iconic Roman cities in the Mediterranean.”
For more information about the Portus Project, visit www.portusproject.org
Header Image : insulae of Ostia Antica : WikiPedia
Contributing Source : University of Cambridge
bronze age h, 1, 2¶, museum 1, 2¶, archaeology 1, 2, 4¶, artefact 1¶, professor 2¶, BC 2¶, artefacts 2¶, archaeological 3¶, roman 16¶, viking 16¶
The project team, co-led by Professor Andrew Bevan (UCL Institute of Archaeology) and Daniel Pett (British Museum), have photographed hoards of Bronze Age (ca. 2500 BC – 800 BC) metal objects and scanned thousands of paper records of further metal artefacts from British prehistory.
They are now asking for public assistance in modelling, transcribing and locating these archaeological finds via a dedicated “crowd-sourcing” website: http://crowdsourced.micropasts.org/ The website is powered by an open source Pybossa citizen science framework.
Neil Wilkin, the curator of Bronze Age collections at the British Museum, is seeking online help from anyone interested in British prehistoric archaeology in researching and enriching our knowledge of the first national catalogue of Bronze Age objects in the UK.
This record contains over 30,000 Bronze Age tools and weapons that were discovered during the 19th and 20th centuries, and complements the current Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) database of metal object finds.
The catalogue contains index cards detailing object find spots and types, alongside detail line drawings and a wide range of further information about the object’s context of discovery. The catalogue itself also has a long and special history. It was a major archaeological initiative first founded in 1913 and then moved to the British Museum in the 1920s. For over 70 years, it represented the highest standards of Bronze Age artefact studies.
“This information has long been known to be an extremely important untapped resource,” says curator Wilkin, “Metal finds are not only crucial forms of evidence for dating Britain’s prehistoric past, but also tell us a great deal about prehistoric society and economy.
Once we have digitised the thousands of objects in this catalogue, they can be incorporated into the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) website. The result will be the largest national database of prehistoric metal finds anywhere in the world and a near-comprehensive view of what we currently know about such finds in the UK. This will allow rethinking of almost everything we currently know about the use of metal in Bronze Age Britain, giving us a far more comprehensive view of our prehistoric past.”
A further goal is to create a large series of research-quality 3D models of some of the fantastic Bronze Age metal objects held in the British Museum’s collections. Neil and the MicroPasts team will be developing high quality 3D models of a selection of bronze axes recorded in the card catalogue, via the same crowd-sourcing platform. Today, these models can easily be constructed from ordinary digital photographs, but an important step in creating a really good model is to identify the outline of the object in each photograph.
The team are asking for anyone with an interest in these prehistoric artefacts or modern digital methods to help via the crowd-sourcing platform. The resulting 3D models will not only enable them to better visualise the artefacts, but will also encourage new forms of scholarship. By exposing, for example, tiny differences in object style, they will gain new insights into how, where, and when these objects were made.
All the project’s data will be made publicly available under an open licence so that anyone can use it: whether to share, discuss and protect local finds via the enhanced catalogue, to conduct their own archaeological research, or to make use of 3D models in computer-based environments and games.
Professor Bevan added: “The UCL Institute of Archaeology is really well-placed to foster a crowd-sourcing project of this kind, because we have such a wealth of expertise under one roof, spanning computer-based methods, artefact studies, public engagement in archaeology, archival science and British prehistory to name just a few.
“One of the things that makes MicroPasts such an exciting project is the fact that we can potentially take it in so many different future directions. We plan to create yet more crowd-sourcing applications for the platform, following both our own personal research interests and those of other university or museum researchers worldwide, but also the ideas of the contributors we attract online.”
UCL researchers, Chiara Bonacchi and Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, add that these two crowd-sourcing applications will be followed by further public collaborations both in the UK and elsewhere, and they hope that this project will start a different kind of discussion about how we research our collective past.
The MicroPasts initiative has been funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, under the Capital Funding Call for Digital Transformations in Community Research Co-Production in the Arts and Humanities.
Header Image : Mold Cape in the British Museum : WikiPedia
Contributing Source : UCL
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