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Summering in Rome

Research the role of port life in the ancient town of Ostia, Rome, during an archaeological excavation course in Italy this summer. Application deadline is Feb. 15.

January 29, 2013

Participants including USC Dornsife students researching last summer in an excavation at Ostia Antica, the port town of ancient Rome. Photo courtesy of John Pollini.

Participants including USC Dornsife students researching last summer in an excavation at Ostia Antica, the port town of ancient Rome. Photo courtesy of John Pollini.

This past summer, John Pollini of USC Dornsife led 10 students on an excavation at Ostia Antica, the port town of ancient Rome. Students interested in taking the excavation course this summer must apply by Feb. 15.

Offered in conjunction with the annual summer archaeological field school of the American Institute for Roman Culture in Rome, the course takes place from June 10 to July 21. The trip provides students an opportunity to learn about the principles of stratification in archaeology, measure and draw walls, conserve ancient artifacts, analyze and sort pottery and other finds, and apply computer technology in field archaeology.

Students also learn about ancient Ostia, a commercial hub for Rome since the fourth century B.C. that was abandoned during the fifth to sixth centuries due to hard economic times. Archaeological excavations at the site began in the 19th century.

During the first week of the program last summer, students took daily walking tours to learn about the monuments and topography of ancient Rome and ancient Ostia.

The last five weeks were spent digging in a previously unexcavated multilevel structure with a columnar portico that once lay directly on the ancient shore of Ostia. The present coastline now lies approximately 2.5 miles east of the site due to the alluvial deposits from the Tiber River over a 2,000-year period.

“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,” said Pollini, professor of art history and history. “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 [computer-aided design] software.”

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, he added.

In addition, two shallow test trenches were opened within the area of the portico to assess the major chronological phases of the structure. The findings indicated that the last phase of the structure probably dated to the abandonment of Ostia Antica in Late Antiquity, between the fourth or fifth centuries.

“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,” Pollini said.

The four-unit, Art History 325 course is called Roman Archaeological Excavation: Methods and Practice.

For students interested in this year’s summer excavation in Ostia and earning university credits, contact John Pollini at pollini@usc.edu on or before Feb. 15.