Posted by: lukelavan | September 19, 2011

Laser Scanning Starts

Today Laser scanning began. Helen Moulden and Eamonn Baldwin of Birmingham University brought an enormously heavy box on site and began scanning the Palaestra. It was extremely satisfying to see the devegetation finished and this vital recording taking place. The laser scan will record the position of each brick in every wall, and provide high resolution images of selected areas to reveal traces of decoration and use. Helen and Eamonn will be recording the walls in the palaestra, the forum and the macellum over the next three days, as well as leading the mapping of the nymphaeum in the Piazza della Vittoria.

Up in the depot  Solinda and Aoife, from Albania and Ireland respectively, started work on classifying the wall plaster, whilst Helen Harrington reviewed our coin collection with the help of Axel Gering. This year we will be cleaning the corrosion from 75 coins in order to identify them for dating purposes. We are also drawing key small finds for publication and processing bones, glass and metal items. This work is essential to generate specialists report. However, work in the depot is not easy, due to the great heat of the building and its many mosquitoes, which have a special taste for Aoife.

Luke Lavan 13-09-2011


Posted by: lukelavan | September 19, 2011

Ostia Excavations 2011 Work Begins

The University of Kent team have returned to Ostia for a season of laser scanning and documentation, trying to problems in their records and finish the study of finds, whilst excavating a couple of new areas which we didn’t manage to cover in 2010. Today the head of the Ostia section of the sopraintendenza, Professor Angelo Pellegrino, gave us the go-ahead to start our work, which will encompass cleaning of the Piazza della Vittoria Nymphaeum, as well as the areas excavated in previous seasons. We were also granted permission by Professor Pellegrino to clean our coins this week and take them for specialist analysis, which will reveal much about the dating of structures in our working areas. He was very pleased to see our report for 2008-2010 at last, which it was a great pleasure to put into his hand.

Today we began intensive devegetation across the site, with our 15 or so participants donning gardening gloves and taking up shears. Insect bites were many, and it was as usual fearsomely hot. But even amidst this repetitive work discoveries were made: in the Foro della statua eroica deveg uncovered a late blocking wall of reused blocks in the doorway of a building beneath the square, which itself encroached on a former street, sometime in the 3rd or early 4th c. Faith Morgan found a coin which may help date this, and a concentration of red wall plaster which may relate to the decoration of the room. Elsewhere Doug Underwood finished off our site grid in preparation for laser scanning, whilst back at the chalet Eddie, Michael and Helen sweated over the archive to prepare records for the start of major works tomorrow.

Luke Lavan 12-09-2011

Posted by: lukelavan | March 23, 2011

Lurus, you shall die!

Cleaning the surface of the main Forum, a very special inscription was recovered in 2010. In scrawly handwriting, nothing less than death is wished to a person named Lurus. Such maledictions are also known from house walls in Pompeii. Remarkably, the curse formula here in Ostia is not incised into a house wall, but clearly visible to all pedestrians into the surface of a marble slab within the pavement of the Forum. But who was Lurus, then? The fact that no one seemed to be on his side to erase the malediction might indicate that Lurus was not one of the most popular inhabitants (or visitors) to Ostia. Maybe Lurus was a businessman and the graffito was drawn by a displeased client venting his anger. Unfortunately, such guesswork cannot be proven, yet, but we all are curious to find out, if any other similar inscriptions will appear.

Lena Kaumanns

Posted by: lukelavan | November 26, 2010

Bones bring a new story

Today we welcomed bone specialist Sheila Hamilton-Dyer. Her enthusiasm and knowledge have been a great lift to us, and she has immediately set to work. She has been able to identify a human foetus in one context, and a great deal of edible animal bones in others. She is particular interested in the rich domestic rubbish deposits, which have produced large fragments and large quantities of bone. At present she seems to describe some of our key layers, from the macellum and the palaestra as being rubbish deposit, including meal waste, but which include some unusual, and somewhat downmarket, cuts of meat. Could this be evidence of domestic and macellum waste being mixed, or of the diet of those who work around the meat market in its later years. Further study will resolve this.

Luke Lavan 22/09/2010

Posted by: lukelavan | November 26, 2010

Cabins amongst the ruins

The excavation of Sebastian’s area in the forum has now been able to advance at a much greater pace, now that the drawing is complete. This has brought both surprises and disappointments. The major disappointment is that the late steps down into the forum, which we thought might be 5th c., appear to be a modern construction, set on top of backfill. However Sebastian also excavated a rich lense of material (what looked like a tile spread) that contained 90% finds including 6 coins. Most interesting of all it contained mosaic tesserae to which were fused iron fragments. These seem to part of the original mosaic of the portico, as a line of iron nails were found hammered into the portico at this point. There were also two stake holes. This suggests that there was some sort of light wooden construction in the portico, at a time when it had been robbed and needed a dump of material to repair it. A similar light structure has been found in the Nymphaeum Bivium by Jonathon. Here shallow slots cut into a spicatum floor, revealed a 1 by 2 m lean-to structure against the perimeter wall of the complex, which undoubtedly dates from its early medieval phase, when the nymphaeum, like the forum portico, was no longer functioning as a classical monument.

Luke Lavan 20/09/2010

Posted by: lukelavan | October 8, 2010

Let’s do laser-scanning!

The German team finished the three rooms. One week ago their latest guests had arrived: Bernhard from the German Aerospace center and Birgit, who is an architect specialized in documenting castles and antique sites with the most advanced technology available in these days (which doesn’t come from archaeology, but space technology…). Bernhard’s profession is dedicated to 3-D-picturing and measuring techniques for the Mars surface, but he wanted to find (almost) equally hard conditions for the equipment on earth. Thus, Ostia is the perfect place to be!

Birgit and Bernhard were not disappointed on their first day experiencing strong winds, rain, extreme humidity and extreme differences between day and night temperatures.

After laser-scanning they chose to do 3-D-‘orthofotography’ with a special camera, which measures all details of a surface with a tolerance less than a millimeter. So we said goodbye to the times when all finds had to be drawn and measured by use of a total station.

The lasers’ results were striking:  the colours (picture below) show different levels of elevation which allows us for example to distinguish modern reconstruction and destruction from the original slabs still remaining in situ (pictured above shows laser-scanner’s original 360 degree view, pictured below the laser-plan of the middle room mentioned above).

Axel Gering 26. 09 2010

Posted by: lukelavan | October 8, 2010

The praefectus’ offices on the main Forum?

Alex, Kathrin and Axel waited long for the chance to excavate the room in which they had discovered slabs already on the first day of excavation. Axel found a few forgotten plans in the archive showing the limits of old excavations. Though the surrounding walls were previously drawn in the 1920’s, the existence of several big rooms with big openings onto the Forum immediately next to the Capitolium never attracted scientists for proper excavation. Their orientation and size characterizes them as most important official representative spaces. So it was no real surprise to find again a full set of late spolia-pavements buried just under a few centimetres of modern topsoil (pictures).

Again there was enough dating evidence for the latest monumental decoration: a second mortar layer is corresponding to the slabs of the fifth century. Also parts of the Roma and Augustus-temple were reused here, like in the south portico. Beside that another fully preserved honorary monument of the Forum was dismantled and cut to deliver nice stone slabs for the pavement. Lots of postholes, marks and three podia were found. The function of the podia in the siderooms remains a mystery though: were these side-rooms used for water-display, statue-galleries or as a late sacellum (sanctuary)? Additionally, the letters ‘n’ and ‘o’ plus lots of geometric graffiti were found on the slabs in the main room. This room had an exclusively late floor, a more than 4m wide open door and could have been used ideally for reception rituals, maybe of the praefectus annonae or other officials. The variety of marble architectural ornaments from walls and floor which have to be classified and dated, deliver enough work for Axel’s team in wintertime.

Yesterday, the work in the both adjoining rooms was finished: The wall decoration of the podium-structures was found in large fragments in situ, so a 3-dimensional reconstruction is the topic! One of our most striking finds was wall painting with a leaf and porphyry, which showed the high value of the ornamentation. Luckily enough, a complete reconstruction of these rooms will be possible thanks to laser-scanning and detailed photography with middle-format cameras, having produced some 60GB of pictures in only 3 days (see next blog). Processing this data will take several months though …

Axel Gering 25. 09. 2010

Posted by: lukelavan | October 8, 2010

Directors’ visits and puzzle games

After the visit of Ostias’ director, Angelo Pellegrino, who was enthusiastic about getting his 2nd century Ostia turned into an almost complete late-antique Ostia, Axels team had the chance to extent their focus on the whole east side of the Forum, continuing north of the Decumanus (picture).


While one part of the team started in the northern part of the portico, the rest was occupied in finishing two kinds of puzzles: Slabs that once had been destroyed by the collapsed portico columns (picture) had to be restored carefully, another puzzle was dedicated to a fully preserved inscription of the late first century (picture below). The inscription had been buried next to architectural elements coming from another monument, probably a doorpillar and pediment of the later second century. The monuments probably once stood on the nearby Forum plaza but were systematically cut into pieces for their late antique reuse as pavement.

For more exact dating of the architectural decoration the German team was very happy to discuss details with famous guests, Prof. Henner von Hesberg and many more enthusiastic researchers from the German Archaeological Institute at Rome. Their visit started at 10 o’clock in the morning and continued far into the afternoon, in order to get an impression of the many different sites now discovered by the Berlin and Kent teams.


Axel Gering 24. 09. 2010

Posted by: lukelavan | October 8, 2010

The Forum in decay? Late 4th and 5th century repairs

Two weeks ago the German team finished excavation work on the south portico of the main Forum on schedule: the portico’s central apse thought to have been 2nd century proved to be a late antique nymphaeum with a statue in Greek dress. There were three different types of pavement, thin layers of the 2nd century pavement and two late phases similar to the macellum-slab-area discovered last year: a late fourth and a fifth century extension, with a basin wall and a late drain onto the forum. The portico’s slabs and back wall show several phases and can be dated by evidence of more than 25 coins mostly found underneath the slabs. Some of these coins also were included in the mortar of the late construction (Pictures of apse as part of portico see below).

The areas lately discovered showed also evidence for the destruction of the late-antique portico. An oil-lamp of late 5th or 6th century was found in a destruction level with roof tiles and broken slabs. But the portico seemed to have remained in use even after its destruction: The team discovered remains of early medieval floors, made from compressed earth with lots of roof tiles, glass, ceramics and 5th century coins.

What was also interesting was flipping over and measuring the slabs to document their original architectural decoration: More than 1/3 of the slab area was reused from only one monument, the temple of Roma and Augustus.  Only this temple wasn’t built with bricks and concrete, but in pure marble, so the provenance of our massive slabs can be proved beyond doubt. The Roma and Augustus marbles were exclusively used for the 5th century repair of cisterns (dated by Honorius/ Arcadius coins). These slabs lay next to the back wall (picture: grey stone), while the white pavement of the 4th century was more regularly laid out and consists of not reused material (dated by a terminus post quem of Constantine). So we have a clear terminus for the destruction of the biggest Temple dedicated to the Imperial cult in Ostia at or after the times of Honorius.

The team dug with maximum motivation continuing within and north of the apse which turned out to be almost completely decorated with spolia-marble of many colours: pink, green, yellow, white and contrasting dark serpentine on the walls: In Late antiquity strong colour contrasts were fashion, obviously even more than in the 2nd century phase!

(Jördis, Julia, Philipp, Alex, Katrin, Axel, Antje, Lydia, Johannes, Lydia)

Axel Gering 23/09/2010

For three weeks we excavated test-pits in the so called Basilica and its later addition, the so-called Aula del Buon Pastore. Two soundings in the main room should prove, how much of the mosaic floor, which was mentioned only briefly in the first report of Paribeni, is still preserved and if there also traces of other floor constructions. Hence, the soundings were conducted in those areas, where the plan of Paribeni shows remains of a floor.


Parts of the black and white mosaic floor were found in a fairly good state of preservation. The borders of the floor had been secured by bricks by the previous excavators and covered with plastic foil. In those parts, where the mosaic floor is not preserved, the soil above the ancient mortar bedding is very different from the modern re-fill and contained a lot of ancient remains. For instance, metal finds and diagnostic pottery sherds, among which several decorated fragments of oil lamps, and also a dice and a coin were found.

Concerning the Aula del Buon Pastore, Paribeni did not mention a floor at all, so the here the soundings were meant to check, whether there is any kind of floor preserved. The test-pit in front of the threshold to the eastern room, directly behind the apsis of the so called Basilica did not bring to light any remains of a floor, but revealed, that the threshold was set into modern concrete by the previous excavators. A high amount of diagnostic pottery sherds might indicate that the room was not excavated carefully. 

Further soundings in the north-western and north-eastern corner of the Aula point to the conclusion that this room did not draw the attention of the early excavators. A high quantity of pottery together with some premium small finds, such as a coin and dice, make us confident that we are dealing with an untouched area. This increases the interest of further archaeological investigations.

 A test-pit in the north-eastern room revealed that also this room was obviously not excavated before. The western wall of this room bears an interesting story. The room once had a door towards the Aula, but it was closed by bricks in later times. Somewhat later the wall partially collapsed and was rebuilt in a different style. Bricks from the earlier wall were used as a foundation of a new floor, in which also a nice fragment of a small column base was found.



Lena Kaumanns and Gunnar Sperveslage

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