Rome Transformed: new ERC-funded research project gets underway

The Caelian hill in Rome, which occupies much of the south-east quarter of the city within the Aurelian walls, is today dominated by the archbasilica of Rome, Saint John Lateran (San Giovanni in Laterano). Yet between the 1st and 8th century AD it grew from an area of private luxury dwellings, to the site of a major military camp, to the construction of fortifications and later the world’s first cathedral. The Rome Transformed project aims to reveal how these constructions were a reflection of the prevailing political, military and religious ideas.

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Rome Transformed team. Photo credit: Ian Haynes

The ERC advanced grant funded (2019-2024) project draws together expertise from Newcastle University, the Università degli Studi di Firenze, the British School at Rome and the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche. The project is led by Professor Ian Haynes, together with Professor Paolo Liverani (a BSR Honorary Fellow), Stephen Kay and Dott. Salvatore Piro, together with two recently appointed project Research Associates, Dr Thea Ravasi and Dr Francesca Carboni.

Over the course of the next two years the team from the BSR, Archaeology Officer Stephen Kay and Geophysics Researcher Elena Pomar, will focus on the sub-surface mapping of large areas across the Caelian Hill. Principally using Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR) and Electrical Resistance Tomography (ERT) the team will use these geophysical prospection techniques to enhance of our understanding of a number of buildings across the research area, including the Castrense amphitheatre, the Sessorium and Aurelianic walls.

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Stephen Kay and Elena Pomar (BSR) conducting GPR survey in the grounds of Villa Wolkonsky. Photo credit: Ian Haynes

Rome Transformed draws upon the experience of several years of fieldwork mapping the 5,000 square metres of excavations under the basilica of San Giovanni (updates from each season can be found in the PBSR Archaeological Fieldwork Reports). More recently, with the generous support of a BSR donor, the project has been recording the early Imperial houses preserved underneath the Hospital of San Giovanni.

In January 2020 a first season of fieldwork was undertaken, recording the standing monuments in the grounds of Villa Wolkonsky, the residence of the British Ambassador to Italy. Thanks to the kind support of the UK embassy, the team were able to begin a geophysical survey of the gardens, a structural analysis of the Neronian spur of the Aqua Claudia and the Colombario of Tiberius Claudius Vitalis, as well as record the structures with laser scanning and HD photography.

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Alex Turner and Jon Allison (NCL) conducting laser scanning inside the Tomb of Tiberius Claudius Vitalis. Photo credit: Elena Pomar

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Thea Ravasi and Francesca Carboni (Rome Transformed Project Research Associates). Photo credit: Elena Pomar

In March team returned to focus on several monuments. The structural analysis and laser scanning continued of the Aqua Claudia and detailed recording was made of the tombs preserved in Via Statilia. The geophysical survey undertaken by the BSR explored the area alongside the Aurelian walls, using the technique of ERT to better understand the depth of stratigraphy and to locate suitable deposits for subsequent mechanical coring. In front of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran the team from CNR used the technique of GPR to investigate the sub-surface, building upon results collected during the earlier San Giovanni in Laterano project. Sadly the season was curtailed after 1 week due to the current COVID-19 pandemic but preparations are underway to continue the fieldwork once the current restrictions are lifted.

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The CNR team led by Salvatore Piro surveying in front of St. John Lateran Basilica, March 2020. Photo credit: Ian Haynes.

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Alex Turner undertaking photography of the Aqua Claudia. Photo credit: Elena Pomar.

This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. 835271). The project is grateful to the staff of the La Soprintendenza Speciale Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio di Roma and Roma Capitale – Sovrintendenza ai Beni Culturali for their support. Our thanks is also extended to the British Ambassador to Italy and San Marino Jill Morris CMG and the team at the British Ambassador’s residence at Villa Wolkonsky, in particular Allegra Serrao the Residence Manager.

 

 

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