BSR at BMTA 2017

This year the annual Borsa Mediterranea del Turismo Archeologico (http://www.borsaturismoarcheologico.it/en/) celebrated its 20th anniversary. Hosted in the wonderful surroundings of the Parco Archeologico di Paestum , the annual fair brings together leaders in cultural heritage, tourism, politics, education, publishing and archaeology.

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Video mapping onto the façade of the Temple of Neptune (Photo: Stephen Kay)

Against the backdrop of the stunning 5th century BC Tomb of the Diver,  this year the BMTA also honoured the family of Khaled al-Asaad, the Syrian archaeologist and the head of antiquities for the ancient city of Palmyra who was killed in 2015 for his protection of the site.

Tomb of the Diver Photo Stephen Kay

5th century BC Tomb of the Diver (Photo: Stephen Kay)

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BMTA honour the family of Khaled al-Asaad (Photo: Stephen Kay)

Together with 120 exhibitors from 30 different countries, the event also hosts a series of ‘Archeo Incontri’, an opportunity for the public to engage with archaeologists and hear about new research projects underway around the Mediterranean.

For several years the BSR has participated in the event under the umbrella of AIAC (Associazione Internazionale di Archeologia Classica) and the Unione Internazionale degli Istituti di Archeologia, Storia e Storia dell’ Arte in Roma. This year the institutes offered a glimpse into the work of the archaeologist in the digital era. The session, moderated by Kristian Göransson (AIAC President and Director of the Swedish Institute of Classical Studies in Rome), saw the participation this year of four speakers, Eeva-Maria Viitanen (Institutum Romanum Finlandia), Ségolène Maudet (École Française de Rome), Olof Brandt (Pontifico Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana) and our own Archaeology Officer Stephen Kay.

BMTA Photo Elena Pomar

The BSR’s Stephen Kay, participates in the panel discussion (Photo: Elena Pomar)

The University of Southampton and the BSR have been leading exponents of the application of digital technologies in archaeology, whether through geophysics, recording techniques or 3D modelling. At the same time as Simon Keay’s keynote lecture at the Being Human festival in Rome (see last week’s blog by BSR Research Fellow Peter Campbell), Stephen was able to show how through a combination of digital technologies in the field, the Portus Project has been able to reconstruct individual buildings and the landscape of Rome’s Imperial port.

Stephen Kay (Archaeological Officer)

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In the footsteps of Ashby

On Saturday 21 October 2017 the Museo Archeologico Comune di Segni hosted the inauguration of an exhibition of a series of drawings by Edward Dodwell (from Sir John Soane’s Museum) and photographs from the BSR Archives taken by Thomas Ashby and Father Peter Paul Mackey.

In the late 19th century Father Peter Paul Mackey visited the small town of Segni, 50km south of Rome and a day’s walk from Palestrina where he was probably based for his weekend photographic excursions. He was drawn to the city by its enormous ‘Cyclopic’ walls hewn from the limestone mountain and the well preserved Roman temple of Juno Moneta.

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Segni, postern under citadel (with figure). Photo courtesy of the BSR Archives, Peter Paul Mackey Collection.

A few years later, undoubtedly inspired by one of Mackey’s lectures at the British and American Archaeological Society of Rome, Thomas Ashby, director of the BSR between 1906 and 1925, also visited the town to photograph its magnificent walls and gateways.

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Segni, city wall and Porta dello Steccato. Photo courtesy of the BSR Archives, Thomas Ashby Collection.

In 2012 the BSR began the Segni Project together with the town archaeological museum which over the past five years has conducted a series of excavations as well as hosted conferences, workshops, exhibitions and the ongoing project for the recovery of a monumental nymphaeum.

It is therefore with great pleasure that the BSR is supporting an exhibition of Mackey’s and Ashby’s photographs on display at the Museo Archeologico di Segni.

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Photographs from the BSR Archives on display at the exhibition (Photos: Stephen Kay)

Inaugurated on the occasion of the annual ‘Sagra del Marrone’, the evening saw a large number of visitors to the museum following a presentation of the accompanying catalogue by Dott. Enrico Benelli (CNR-ISMA). It was also an opportunity for the new director Professor Stephen Milner and his family to visit one of the sites of ongoing BSR archaeological research. The success of the exhibition owes much to the work of the BSR’s archivist Alessandra Giovenco and that of the librarians, so it was wonderful that BSR Librarian Valerie Scott and Beatrice Gelosia were also present for the occasion.

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Stephen Milner gives an introductory presentation (Photo: Stephen Kay)

The exhibition at the Museo Archeologico di Segni will continue through until the end of the year. For more details see www.museosegni.it The BSR is grateful for the continued support of the Comune di Segni and its mayor Prof.ssa Maria Assunta Bocardelli, as well as the director of the Museo Archeologico di Segni Dott.ssa Federica Colaiacomo and the previous museum director and BSR Research Fellow Dott. Francesco Maria Cifarelli. The project is extremely grateful to Mr and Mrs Denny Custer who have generously supported the work of the BSR Archaeological Officer over the past years and made possible the scanning and reproduction of the photographs of Segni by Thomas Ashby.

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Team BSR enjoying the ‘Sagra del Marrone’ (Photo: Stephen Milner)

Stephen Kay (Archaeological Officer)

New discoveries from the necropolis of Porta Nola, Pompeii

A final season of excavation at the necropolis of Porta Nola (Pompeii) was undertaken this summer by a joint team from the BSR, the Ilustre Colegio Oficial de Doctores y Licenciados en Letras y Ciencias de Valencia y Castellòn, Departamento de Arqueologia and the Museo de Prehistoria e Historia de La Diputación De Valencia. With the participation of 24 students and a number of specialists, and the support of the Parco Archeologico di Pompei, the work focused on two areas within the necropolis.

In the mid-70s the Soprintendenza di Pompei, whilst extending the excavation of the necropolis to the west of the gate along the circuit road, discovered a series of burials belonging to Praetorian soldiers opposite the tomb of Obellius Firmus. The excavation at the time focused on the recovery of the funerary stele. The new excavations conducted this past month reopened the area with the aim of both locating the cremation urns of these soldiers, as only two had reportedly been recovered, as well as testing the hypothesis that earlier burials lay underneath these Praetorian tombs.

Working systematically along the road side, the 2017 excavation relocated the positions of the burials recorded in the 1970s. The first tomb, identified as that of L. Betutius, had previously been excavated and two cremation urns had been recorded. This year, exploring the area immediately behind the tomb, a further cremation urn was discovered together with a number of funerary items including a lamp depicting a satyr.

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Excavated cremation urn (Photo Stephen Kay)

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Lamp with a satyr (Photo Charles Avery)

 

Progressing westward the excavation identified two further tombs where only the funerary stele had been recovered. The excavation discovered both the cremation urns which had been placed behind the stele, the second of which, belonging to L. Manilius Saturninus, was accompanied by a small jug and animal bones.

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Small jug from the burial of L. Manilius Saturninus (Photo Trinidad Pasies)

The fourth and most westerly tomb excavated contained the cremation urn of Sex. Caesernius Montanus who had served for eleven years, so was therefore between 29 and 31 years old when he died. These four new cremations will be studied over the course of the next year, potentially offering a further insight into the lives of these Praetorians.

Alongside the discovery of these four cremations, an area was also opened immediately to the north of the tomb of Obellius Firmus, between the tomb and a precinct wall. First investigated last summer, at the close of the excavation a large area of burning, containing ash, charcoal and burnt human bone was identified. This area was fully excavated this year, and whilst this area yielded material associated to funerary practices, a further two burials were also discovered, placed alongside the northern side of the tomb of Obellius Firmus. The first of these cremations was placed inside a pit lined with stone blocks and sealed with an upturned bowl, covering which was ash and hundreds of fragments of a spectacular bone funerary bed.

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Fragments of a funerary bed (Photo Charles Avery)

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Excavation of a further burial behind the tomb of Obellius (Photo Charles Avery)

The discovery this season of six new cremations from the necropolis of Porta Nola at Pompeii significantly furthers our knowledge about the use of this necropolis and the associated funerary practices. The study season which ran alongside the excavation and which will continue into 2018 is beginning to reveal a fascinating history of this necropolis which was in use up until the final days of Pompeii.

The Porta Nola Necropolis Project is extremely grateful for the support shown by the Parco Archeologico di Pompei, in particular the Direttore Generale and Honorary BSR Fellow Professor Massimo Osanna and the Funzionario for the area Dott. Fabio Galeandro. In the field, the team was kindly supported by the Parco Archeologico di Pompei excavation assistant Geom. Vincenzo Sabini. The project is directed by Llorenç Alapont, Rosa Albiach and Stephen Kay with the support of a team of specialists: Trinidad Pasies (Conservator), Letizia Ceccarelli (Finds Officer), Ilaria Frumenti (Surveyor), Fabio Mestici (Numismatist) and Pasquale Longobardi (Health and Safety Officer). The project directors are grateful to the team of specialists who work on the project: Tomas Jirak, Monika Koroniova, Pilar Mas, Antoni Puig and Victor Revilla. The 2017 excavations were supervised by Pedro Corredor, Joaquin Alfonso and Ana Maria Miguelez. Finally, a huge thank you to all the students who participated in the excavation this year making it such a success.


Stephen Kay

Archaeology Officer

Fresco frenzy at the BSR

BSR scholars and artists were recently invited to take part in a fresco painting workshop organised by Anna de Riso and Eliana Billi. Assimilating the techniques and materials of ancient and Renaissance painters, the workshop presented the opportunity to recreate a fresco to a high degree of authenticity. The workshop complemented the interest in fresco painting of many of the group, with several having already visited Naples where they had seen the fantastic frescoes excavated at Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The day began with an introduction to the history of fresco painting from its ancient Greek origins, when it was used to decorate prestigious buildings and the homes of the wealthy. The earliest Greek examples are now lost, with most of the knowledge on this craft coming from literary sources.

For wall-painting in the Roman era, one of two techniques – fresco or secco – would have been employed. Both had as their base pozzolana (volcanic ash) which was mixed with water to make it set, and they differed in how the paint was applied. With the fresco technique, pigment was ground with water to make the paint and then applied on top of wet, fresh lime mortar or plaster, then left to carbonate and set. With the secco technique, the plaster was still dry when the paint was applied, necessitating the binding of the pigment with egg or glue to make it stick. Clay-based pigments were often used in fresco-painting in the Roman era and this type of pigment could be polished, giving the fresco a shiny finish.

Both techniques had their drawbacks: the pigment on secco frescoes was more susceptible to flaking off over time, however the fresco paintings had to be completed quickly, before the plaster set, and accurately, as mistakes could not be corrected once painted.

Fresco painting continued into the Middle Ages, however the images depicted were simpler and less refined. A turning-point was reached at the end of the 14th century with the pioneers Cavallini and Giotto, who headed a new-found interest in the depiction of space and volume. With new styles came new techniques, the most important of which were: fewer layers used to build up the panel; the use of sinopia, a reddish-brown pigment used to create a preparatory drawing on the panel before the paint was applied; and the combination of the fresco element of painting on wet plaster with that of the secco technique, in which further details were added once the panel had been painted and set.

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‘The Last Judgement’ fresco by Cavallini in S. Cecilia in Trastevere

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‘The Dream of Joachim’ fresco by Giotto, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua

With the outline of the tradition and the technical aspects explained, it was time to put the new-found knowledge into practice. The group was split into two, with half recreating Pompeian frescoes and half following the Renaissance technique, and both groups following designs from that period.

The Pompeian group began by mixing together the mortar formula and spreading it on their panels. They then sketched their designs onto the surface with pigment, then traced along the sketch with a knife to make a small engraving of the design. Plaster was then applied over the engraved base layer, through which the design showed through and was then reapplied on the plaster layer. With the design in place, the painting could begin.

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Mixing the mortar. Photo by Stephen Kay.

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Applying the mortar layer. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

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Outlining the design in paint. Photo by Stephen Kay.

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Adding details to the plaster layer. Photo by Antonio Palmieri

The plaster layer was applied to just half of the panel, to show the different stages of the process.

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James Norrie (Rome Fellow), Vivien Zhang (Abbey Scholar in Painting) and Peter McDonald (Abbey Fellow in Painting) with their Pompeian frescoes

Those following the Renaissance technique began by drawing their designs on tracing paper, then puncturing small holes along the outline of the drawing. They then applied the cement layer to the panel, softening the mixture with water and working it with a spatula until it was smooth. The tracing paper was placed over the top, and then the sinopia pigment was applied, permeating the punctures to give the outline of the design.

With the general outline in place, the sinopia pigment was mixed with water to create a paint which was used to complete the outline, and then the designs were completed with coloured paint.

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Helpmann Academy Resident Kate Power – painting in progress. Photo by Stephen Kay.

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The Bridget Riley Fellow Sinta Tantra – painting in progress. Photo by Stephen Kay.

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William Fletcher Foundation Scholar Chris Browne – painting in progress. Photo by Antonio Palmieri

Many thanks to Anna de Riso and Eliana Billi for organising a fantastic workshop.


Ellie Johnson (Communications & Events)

Understanding, designing and creating maps: a workshop on new software in archaeology

Earlier this year, Research Fellow Maria del Carmen Moreno, who joins us at the BSR this year from the University of Southampton to carry out research on the port system of imperial Rome, generously offered to share her expertise on new software being used in archaeology. Here she reflects on the workshop which she organised and conducted, and on the role this software has to play in this field of study.

My name is Maria del Carmen Moreno, and I am a postdoctoral researcher working at the British School at Rome. I am a specialist in Roman Archaeology and Landscape Archaeology, and as such, I am very familiar with the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). I believe the introduction of this tool in Archaeology has generated a bit of a “revolution” that is just starting to be acknowledged and incorporated into the discipline of Roman Archaeology, since it allows the user to manage and analyse vast amounts of data based on their distribution over the landscape. But every journey begins with a single step, and regarding GIS, that step consists of understanding what GIS is and its possibilities, and (then) getting hands-on with a computer to create a first map.

After several conversations with some residents at the British School at Rome, it became clear that tools of this kind generate interest and curiosity amongst scholars and artists alike, and so I thought of ways to showcase not only the possibilities of GIS, but also to demonstrate that, despite its complexity, GIS shouldn’t be considered a scary piece of software only understood by some, but as a very useful tool accessible to any person with an interest in this topic. I therefore decided to organise a workshop, entitled “Introduction to Geographic Information Systems in Humanities” at the British School at Rome for those interested in the topic.

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The day came, and an audience of residents (both scholars and artists) and some colleagues from other institutions and international academies in Rome were introduced to many different topics. To name just a few, we explored the definition of GIS and advantages of its use not only in Humanities but in many other disciplines and areas of research, and the diverse ways into which the curved surface of the Earth has been organised and represented through coordinate systems, as well as the numerous possibilities of commercial and open-source software available nowadays. Lively exchanges of opinions developed throughout the morning and early afternoon, especially when we discussed the process of map design and the consequences of choosing one geographic projection over another (which may introduce diverse degrees of distortion on the length and area of regions, countries, and continents alike, as some assistants discovered then).

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The site of Portus. Photo by Maria del Carmen Moreno.

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The site of Isola Sacra. Photo by Maria del Carmen Moreno.

We also went into the computing side of GIS, where we could think of ways in which real phenomena are represented and stored as geographic digital data, thus establishing the differences between vector and raster formats and the possibilities they offer for GIS users. Most importantly, I introduced some ideas about metadata and strategies for digital archiving, a fundamental concern when dealing with digital data in order to allow its description and reuse by researchers in the future. Finally, a tutorial on the creation of maps in ArcGIS (developed specifically for this workshop) was distributed amongst the assistants, in order to enable them to create their own maps. And thus, the session finished.

As a little reflection, I believe it was a very interesting workshop where the diversity of approaches and perceptions of the geographic space held and discussed by the assistants become the very central point of the session, allowing all of us to think and reflect on space, territories and landscapes in more diverse and creative ways.

As a final note, I would like to thank the assistance and the collaboration of the British School at Rome in the organisation and celebration of this workshop. Without them, this initiative wouldn’t have been possible.


Maria del Carmen Moreno (Research Fellow, BSR)

Lucus Feroniae: a new survey of the archaic sanctuary and Roman colony

Lucus Feroniae with Alice James - Sophie Hay

This spring has seen the completion of a large scale geophysical survey of the site of Lucus Feroniae, 30km to the north of Rome. Working together with the Sopintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio per l’area metropolitana di Roma, la provincia di Viterbo e l’Etruria meridionale (with special thanks to Dott.ssa Alfonsina Russo and Dott. Gianfranco Gazzetti) the BSR and University of Southampton have investigated the important sanctuary and town with both magnetometry and Ground-Penetrating Radar.

Lucus Feroniae - Sophie Hay

Following its discovery in the early 1950s, subsequent excavations focused around the central area of the forum, temple and amphitheatre, together with the excavation in 1961 of the close by Villa dei Volusii Saturnini. Whilst the routes of the major thoroughfares, the Via Tiberina and Via Capenate, have been traced, the full extent of the city has never been fully mapped.

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The survey, the preliminary results of which were presented at the UCL and Soprintendenza workshop held at the BSR last November , will be presented at a conference in May hosted by the Museum of Nepi (Director Dott. Stefano Francocci). Building upon the newly published volume Lucus Feroniae: il santuario, la città, il territorio the results of the survey reveal that this was a small town, perhaps serving as an administrative centre, but which was focused around the sanctuary. The results of the survey, which complement the findings of the earlier Roman Towns Project, will shortly be published in PBSR.

Stephen Kay (Archaeology Officer)

Photos by Sophie Hay (Geophysics Officer)

The British School beyond Rome: finding Trajan in Benevento

amy-russellAmy Russell is Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at Durham, and is spending the autumn of 2016 as a Research Fellow of the British School at Rome as part of her AHRC-funded project Senatorial Monuments: a new approach to the social dynamics of ideology formation in the Roman empire. Here Amy tells us about ‘seeing [her] own sites through new eyes’ during a three-day research trip to Benevento with fellow BSR residents.

‘One of my favourite parts of spending time at the BSR, whether as a Research Fellow, award-holder or regular visitor, has always been the chance to immerse myself in other visitors’ research and practice. The interdisciplinary interaction we have every day over tea or dinner constantly opens my mind to new possibilities and new research directions. Often, one colleague’s site or gallery visit ends up becoming a group trip, and we get the chance to see something we never would have known to look for. And seeing my own sites through new eyes is even better!

A group of award-holders and I took this philosophy to the extreme this past week, as they agreed to come with me on a three-day research trip to Benevento. The core of the trip was the Arch of Trajan, which features in my current project on monuments built by the imperial Senate, but we added on visits to museums and churches in Naples, other sites in Benevento, and the Reggia di Caserta.

 

Our trip started and ended with Hercules: the two statues of the weary hero from the Baths of Caracalla, originally displayed next to each other, both entered the Farnese and then the Bourbon collections but were then separated, with the more famous of the two ending up in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale at Naples and the other at the foot of the great staircase at Caserta. A Monday conversation with Jana Schuster [Giles Worsley Rome Fellow] about how it might feel to come across the Naples example while walking naked through the baths was complemented by a debate on Wednesday about which one is better, and what the visual impact of seeing them both together might have been.

 

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Arch of Trajan, Benevento. Photo by Arthur Westwell.

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Detail of Arch of Trajan, Benevento. Photo by Amy Russell.

In Benevento, all eyes were on the arch, a monument to Trajan’s reconstruction of the Via Appia. It was the road that gave Benevento its importance in the imperial period, as it brought countless travellers through on the way from Rome to Brundisium and the east. I counted senators until the light went and climbed up on bollards in undignified fashion (Arthur Westwell [Pilkington Rome Awardee], always dignified, helped) to check whether they were wearing appropriately senatorial shoes; Maria del Carmen Moreno Escobar, our Portus Project representative, was excited to find a representation of Trajan founding Portus – note the anchor.

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Photo by Jana Schuster

This is not me climbing the arch, but a slightly more dignified scramble to give a sense of the lengths ancient historians will go to to investigate spolia… It wasn’t all ancient in Benevento. The town was a Lombard capital from the sixth to the eleventh centuries, enjoying (some of the time) a remarkably peaceful existence which has resulted in some fantastic surviving early mediaeval architecture.

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Photo by Jana Schuster

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Photo by Serena Alessi

Arthur and I might have exhausted the patience of less doughty companions with our transports of joy over the eccentric eighth-century Santa Sofia. Jana Schuster’s eye for building phases helped us reconstruct the fate of some of the vaulting, but the plan, which is part-radial, part-axial, and part star-shaped, gave us plenty to work with on imaginative reconstructions of Lombard liturgy and movement through the building. Meanwhile, modernist Stefano Bragato [Rome Awardee] was quietly gathering information, and impressed us later by calmly laying out the phasing of a late mediaeval wall we passed on the way to dinner.

 

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Photo by Amy Russell

He and Serena Alessi [Rome Fellow] found something closer by a few centuries to their own research when we visited another of Benevento’s hidden secrets, a 1992 sculpture garden by the Italian artist Mimmo Paladino. As if he knew that our little interdisciplinary group was coming, Paladino based his garden on the mediaeval monastic concept of the hortus conclusus, a hidden sanctuary for thought and reflection.

 

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Photo by Arthur Westwell

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Photo by Serena Alessi

There was plenty more crammed into the three days, from the mixture of Egyptian and Roman faux-Egyptian sculpture from Domitian’s temple to Isis at Benevento to the glorious English Garden at Caserta, where guests get a peek at the bathing Aphrodite (just after being warned by a gory fountain sculpture of Diana and Actaeon that spying on goddesses rarely ends well). The trip left us tired but intellectually refreshed: I could say the same of the whole of my time here at the BSR’.