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Director Kimberly Bowes highlights AAR's ongoing commitment to archaeology

July 10, 2017
Site of the Pompeii Archaeological Research Project: Porta Stabia, sponsored by the University of Cincinnati and led by Steven Ellis (2013 Fellow).
Excavation activity at Morgentina, led by the University of Texas at Austin and Princeton University
Workers processing excavated materials in the finds lab at the Contrada Agnenese Project at Morgantina.
Topographers on site at Gabii.
Conservation work at the University of Michigan’s Gabii Project, one of the largest archaeological projects in Italy
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In 1948 teams of archeologists from the Academy traveled up the Tuscan coast to the abandoned town of Cosa. They were the first Americans granted a permit to excavate in Italy, and under the directorship of then Mellon Professor Frank Brown, began one of the first attempts in Italy to chart the history of a Roman town.

The Cosa Excavations began a long relationship between the Academy and archaeological fieldwork in Italy—Academy teams worked in the Regia off the Roman forum, on the Palatine hill, and even in AAR’s own parking lot, finding the first watermills on the Janiculum. In more recent years, the Academy has provided logistical support to four affiliated projects, run and funded by major American universities who use the Academy as a base for research, group meetings, and conferences. Today they represent some of the most cutting-edge examples of American archaeological research in the Mediterranean. They train hundreds of students in advanced archaeological practice and changing the way we view everything from the evolution of Roman cities to the lives of the urban poor.

The University of Michigan’s Gabii Project, affiliated with the Academy since 2010, is one of the largest projects in Italy. Its goal is to understand the shadowy origins of Roman cities by examining one of Rome’s neighbors that didn’t succeed: Gabii, located on the Via Praenestina. Directed by Nic Terrenato, the project has located a village of wooden huts from the eighth century BC, a settlement that lent Rome its first regular layout. Gabii has produced its share of spectacular finds, including perfectly preserved infant burials complete with jewelry and other ornaments and an enormous lead sarcophagus. More important for archaeology are the digital recording systems produced under the supervision of data director Rachel Opitz. Spearheading a new type of digital publication, which transforms born-digital data directly into the final report, the Gabii team is also changing the way large excavations make data and findings available to other scholars.

The Pompeii Archaeological Research Project: Porta Stabia, sponsored by the University of Cincinnati and led by Steven Ellis (2013 Fellow), is addressing another neglected aspect of Roman cities—the poor. This project has excavated an entire Pompeiian neighborhood near the Porta Stabia, revealing a community dominated by small shops and adjacent tiny apartments, where poor Romans made fish sauce and ceramics, sold their wares in storefronts, and lived cheek by jowl with their neighbors. The research team has looked carefully at the spaces and environment of the ancient neighborhood, while also using studies of animal bones, plant materials, and charcoal to understand what its inhabitants ate and how they cooked.

Further south, in Sicily, a new affiliated project led by Alex Walthall (2013 Fellow) of the University of Texas at Austin and Princeton University is exploring another poor neighborhood. The Greek-founded city of Morgantina began as a small city of native Sicilians and grew to its greatest prominence under the tyrant-kings of Syracuse. The Contrada Agnenese Project at Morgantina is excavating an area of modest houses at the city’s edge, using advanced technologies to understand agricultural strategies, storage, and other ways that poor people benefited from and were exploited by state policies. Alex and his colleagues are trying to understand how the actions of leaders such as the Syracusan tyrants impacted both agriculture and the lives of the urban poor.

In addition to facilitating new excavation projects, the Academy is reexamining its older projects. The archives of earlier excavations are treasure troves of information, whether they are projects that were never published or providing opportunities to rethink older conclusions. In addition to rehousing all of the Academy’s archaeological records and materials in proper archival storage, the Academy has also activated new projects based on those archives.

The Academy’s Regia excavations in 1964–65 were never published, yet the project remains a benchmark for its time, both for the methods it used and the historical importance of the site, the legendary house of the priest-kings of Rome. Darby Scott (1966 Fellow, 1979 Resident), former Mellon Professor, is undertaking the publication of Frank Brown’s original project. Simultaneously, the Regia Revisited Project, led by Nic Terrenato of the University of Michigan and Paolo Brocato of the Università di Calabria, is reexamining the Regia archive and the excavated materials, revisiting Brown’s conclusions and, with them, the history of Rome itself.