Posted by: lukelavan | September 4, 2010

Ray Laurence visits

 A blog by Professor Ray Laurence (above right, with Luke Lavan), from the University of Kent, who visited the team on the 31st August. He is a specialist on early Roman cities, especially Pompeii.



For more than two decades we have come to realise that archaeology in Rome needs to develop a better understanding of Late Antiquity. Late antique sequences are far easier to recover than say the Republican layers that lie beneath the 2nd century AD redevelopment of Ostia in brick-faced concrete. Sadly, earlier excavators focussed more on recovering, restoring and representing this 2nd century city. The project, a collaboration with Axel Gering from Berlin, seeks to redress this problem and for the first time, to begin to understand the late re-development of public space in the centre of Ostia.


Visits to excavations are fascinating. Luke lived up to my expectations with a detailed but incisive tour. The team had revealed changes made in the final centuries of urban redevelopment, discovered pottery sequences through to the 8th century AD, uncovered a small late antique temple, and will ultimately reveal that Ostia has many more stories to tell us about this phase of its history. Interestingly, in Late Antique Ostia: marble was still used, columns were erected and new public spaces were created. If anything, there would seem to have been a far greater use of marble than we find in Pompeii in the first century AD. The project demonstrates that there is far more to be known about Late Roman cities that will ultimately allow us to have a better understanding of the nature of urbanism in Antiquity.


Visiting the project in Ostia reminded me of other excavations I had visited. There was the familiar equipment, the white plastic chairs that every excavation in Italy acquires, the dynamics of the group (in the case of Ostia drawn from Kent, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and the USA) that tends to include some exotic passions (one person devoured the best part of a jar of pickled onions in front of me), and the tension of being the only residents in a campsite who were not on holiday.


But there was more than this to remember of my brief visit. Archaeology is a passion, but excavations in the Mediterranean can be tough, as readers of this blog know. Yet, members of this team would rather (in their own time) attend a lecture about the project than sleep, go swimming, or go to the bar. I left wanting to know more about these people: some I will meet again at the University of Kent; others had mentioned their doctoral research projects; but all had made the journey to Ostia and given a massive commitment to the Kent-Berlin Ostia excavations.


Ray Laurence 02/09/2010


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