Excavation and Survey at Portus: the first week of the 2013 field school

It isn’t difficult to understand the draw of working in fascinating or beautiful places on archaeological sites which represent pivotal moments in European history, and the case of Portus is no exception. This is a site and landscape close to my heart and research interests, more in terms of the development of the broader Tiber delta, than the Roman port per se. However, the nature of the port, its relationship with the city of Rome and the town of Ostia Antica and the changing fortunes of the site are compelling. Between 21st June and 14th July a field school, run by the University of Southampton, and directed by Prof. Simon Keay and Dr Dragana Mladenovic, is continuing the excavation and survey of a section of the port complex which commenced in 2007. The focus this time is the integration of different methods of a nalysis, both non-intrusive and excavation-based, to train students from a number of different institutions in the UK, Italy and elsewhere. As part of the season I am involved in the capacity of a supervisor and safety officer, so am really getting an idea of a small, limited part of the overall project and operation of the site in some aspects. In spite of this it seemed a good opportunity to blog over the next few weeks looking at the work and some of the broader thoughts arising from the work on site.

Setting up the barrow ramp to the north of the Imperial Palace Building 8

Setting up the barrow ramp to the north of the Imperial Palace Building 8

Looking north across the excavation

Looking north across the excavation

The team consists of different archaeologists and other specialists from the University of Southampton and further afield. In addition to the excavation supervisors from Southampton, Parsifal and the British School at Rome, James Miles and Peter Wheeler are working on digital scanning of parts of the site, and Lizzie Richley is carrying out high resolution Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) across the area of Building 5.

Photography of the site from a cherry picker prior to commecment of the excavation

Photography of the site from a cherry picker prior to commecment of the excavation

The first week of work has focused on cleaning of areas of the site, photography from a cherry picker and gigapan photography, and the start of excavation in Areas K and N, including training of students.

Peter Wheeler photographing the site

Peter Wheeler photographing the site

Camilla Panzieri putting the finishing touches to a plan

Camilla Panzieri putting the finishing touches to a plan

Training on site has taken the form of thirty minute lectures on different aspects of the work on and off site, and longer lunchtime lectures, so far conducts by Simon Keay. The students then work on site, reinforcing the issues and theoretical ideas established during the lectures. Much of the work so far has involved explanation of the different methods of excavation and recording, and use o everyday equipment such as dumpy levels. All of the students seem to be engaged with the work and the broader project. There is still a lot to cover in the next two weeks, however, as the season moves forwards and excavation of the different areas continues into the rubble and occupation layers of the Imperial Palace.

Some of the walls and fallen masonry in the north part of the Imperial Palace. Topsoil still to be removed!

Some of the walls and fallen masonry in the north part of the Imperial Palace. Topsoil still to be removed!

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