Summer Excavation Class at Ostia Antica, the Port of Ancient Rome



AHIS 325 (4 Units):  “Roman Archaeological Excavation: Methods & Practice” 
June 9 to July 20, 2014

6 week program:  One week of walking tours of Rome & Ostia, five weeks of excavating at Ostia
(Students housed in apartments in the center of Rome)

No prerequisites or previous archaeological experience necessary:  All instruction in English

For students interested

 in participating in this yearʼs summer excavation at Ostia (June

 9 to July 20, 2014) and earning university credits, please contact John Pollini, Professor of Classical Art & Archaeology, Department of Art History:

Please also read about this course at USC News:!/article/56627/when-in-rome-undergraduates-dig-into-history/



Past Excavations:










AHIS 325 (4 Units):  “Roman Archaeological Excavation: Methods & Practice” 
June 18 to July 29, 2013

In area “A” students worked on what appears to have been a late Roman house (4th cent. A.D.).  Here were found a spectacular room with a beautiful floor made up of multicolored marble panels cut into different geometric shapes, as well as frescoed wall paintings, preserved only a few feet above the level of the floor.  Next year, more of this “house” will be uncovered.  The majority of time this summer was spent working in area “B,” where a circular mausoleum of late Republican – early imperial date (late 1st cent. B.C. – early 1st cent. A.D.) was excavated. This Roman tomb was built along a stretch of the via Ostiensis, the main road between Rome and Ostia.logical excavation team was back in the field at Ostia Antica (ca. 16 miles southwest of Rome) for another summer of new discoveries!  John Pollini, Professor of Classical Art and Archaeology in the Department of Art History, and his team of seven undergraduate students joined an international group excavating two areas just outside the ancient town and port of Rome, under the auspices of the American Institute for Roman Culture (AIRC).  Participating in this summer excavation class (AHIS 325) were five undergraduate students from USC (Christi Choi, Yijing [Sally] Hong, Adam Landers, Jason Lawler, and Tanya Sornthaiteva) and two students from other colleges (Pete Cronkite from Colby College and Jarrod Gaut from Pitzer College). After a week of walking tours of museums and sites in Rome and nearby Ostia, the students learned the basic methodology of field archaeology in a five-week dig that focused on two areas (“A” and “B”) in Parco dei Ravennati, a public greenspace located between the ancient town of Ostia and a Medieval settlement with its imposing Renaissance castle built by Pope Julius II at the beginning of the 16th century. 

The subsequent history of the mausoleum turned out to be quite fascinating. In the late antique period (probably 5th cent.) Christians turned the mausoleum into some sort of octagonal structure, the function of which is still to be determined.  Some centuries later in the Middles Ages, this structure was used for Christian burials, as skeletal remains and small finds from this period indicate.  Other Christian graves, including infant burials, were found in close proximity to the converted octagonal structure, suggesting that this area served as a Christian cemetery.

About four years ago the mound-like remains of the mausoleum were again used by the local Christian community of Ostia to serve as a simulated Golgotha for the mock crucifixion of Christ as part of their Easter passion play.  To stabilize the cross, a metal socket, which seems to have been part of a mount for a German WWII anti-aircraft gun, was cemented into the top of the mausoleum.  Plans are being made to remove this modern installation and close off this area as an official archaeological site to prevent further misuse and damage, with attention being given to conservation of the site.  At the end of the excavation, Italian TV and the press came to film this year’s discoveries.  


AHIS 325 (4 Units):  “Roman Archaeological Excavation: Methods & Practice” 
June 18 to July 29, 2012

Dr. John Pollini, Professor of Classical Art and Archaeology, Department of Art History, led 10 students last summer (June 18 to July 29) on an excavation at Ostia Antica, the port town of ancient Rome. This course was offered in conjunction with the annual summer archaeological field school of the American Institute for Roman Culture in Rome. During the course, students had the opportunity to learn about the principles of stratification in archaeology, how to measure and draw walls, analyze and sort pottery and other finds, conserve ancient artifacts, and apply computer technology in field archaeology.

Students also learned about the port town of Ostia and the spectacular finds in the siteʼs Archaeological Museum. Ancient Ostia, which served as a commercial hub for Rome since the fourth century B.C., was abandoned during the fifth to sixth centuries due to hard economic times. In the 19th century archaeological excavations were first begun there.

In their first week of the program, the students took daily walking tours to learn about the monuments and topography of ancient Rome, as well as of ancient Ostia. The last five weeks were spent digging in a previously unexcavated multi-level structure with a columnar portico that once lay directly on the ancient shore of Ostia, next to a modern highway. The present shoreline of the modern town of Ostia now lies about two and a half miles east of the site, due to the alluvial deposits from the Tiber River over a 2000 year period.

The building excavated is constructed in brick-faced Roman cement, which is far superior and much more durable that modern concrete. Evidence found at the site indicated that this structure once had cement vaulting, terracotta roof tiles, floors paved with mosaics and marble, and walls embellished with terracotta figurative friezes. Pottery and other minor finds were all recorded. Stamped impressions on terracotta tiles used in the construction of the building proved very important for dating much of structure to the imperial period in the 2nd century A.D.

The first stage of the excavation involved the removal of the dense thicket of vegetation (large fig trees and briar) that completely covered the site. After the topsoil had been cleared and all surfaces cleaned, the fully revealed structure was mapped and modeled in three dimensions using a laser total station and CAD software. The best-preserved wall-face in the portico area was documented in detail using photogrammetry and CAD software.

Finally, two shallow test trenches (0.5 - 1.5 m deep) were opened within the area of the portico to assess the major chronological phases of the structure. Beneath the 2nd century A.D. structure, evidence was discovered for an earlier phase of the structure, which dates back to the Late Roman Republican period (1st cent. B.C.). The latest material finds indicate that the last phase of the structure probably dates to the abandonment of Ostia Antica in Late Antiquity (4th - 5th cent. A.D.). It is speculated that this structure was part of Ostiaʼs harbor installations.

Further investigation of this structure and the surrounding area will hopefully clarify information about the nature of the building (administrative or customs building?) and the role of the port-life of the ancient town of Ostia. The excavation is important to our understanding of a little know phase of Ostiaʼs harbor, prior to the construction of the imperial ports built by the emperors Claudius (1st cent. A.D.) and Trajan (2nd cent. A.D.) just north of the ancient town in an area known as “Portus.”

USC students participating in this excavation course in the summer of 2012 were Ian Beck, Shannon Copely, Cassandra DʼCruz, Alissa Gwynn, Maria Phoutrides, Alexandra Shokralla, Rachelle Song, and Ann Vought. Also taking part in the course were Anne-Marie Cannatella (The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.) and Haley Flagg (Washington University, St. Louis).


From left to right: Back Row: Alissa Gwynn, Maria Phoutrides, Ian Beck, John Pollini, Ann Vought; Front Row: Cassandra DʼCruz, Rachelle Song, Shannon Copely, Anne-Marie Cannatella, Alexandra Shokralla, Haley Flagg