Old excavation – new results: examples from the Aquincum Civil Town” – a keynote paper
Excavations have been going on in The Aquincum Civil Town for more than 120 years, many of which still await processing and publication. These researches – mainly from the 19th or first half of 20th century – were carried out according to different standards: in some cases detailed excavation diaries, numbered layers on section drawings can be discovered, while in other cases only a page long description, a few lines on find bags or a few photos remain. How can these old documentations of rather different levels be used/valuated today? Are these materials worth to take a fresh look at? Can new information be gained from them? What methods could be used for this work and what are the results? Do they change anything at all? Could – even in some cases – old theories be disproved concerning for example periodization or function? In this paper, several case studies from the Aquincum Civil Town will be presented, based on these old and recently revaluated excavation materials to see if it works…
The Roman military base at Dura-Europos: from archive and field to new synthesis
The Roman base at Dura-Europos, Syria, explored by a Franco-American expedition (1928-37), is the only extensively excavated example of a major class of sites: urban bases which, during the Principate, were an important feature of Roman military infrastructure, especially in the East. Dura’s intramural military quarter was a prominent component of life in this ‘Pompeii of the East’. The site is also famous for its extraordinarily well preserved military equipment largely deposited during the Sasanian siege which destroyed it c.AD256, and the famous papyri, including records of the resident cohors XX Palmyrenorum.
Since its excavation Dura’s testimony has featured extensively in discussions of the Roman military in the East and in general, and continues to do so. However, the excavations were only partially published, with evidence for the military base in particular largely remaining unstudied in the expedition archive at Yale University Art Gallery (YUAG). Commentators have always been constrained by the limited information and preliminary interpretations in the expedition’s incomplete Preliminary and Final Report series.
Having completed a study of the military equipment from the site, the writer began a new project to bring the base to publication. This was a combined exercise in archival research—dealing with so-called legacy data at Yale—and new fieldwork at Dura. The latter comprised inspection and resurvey of the still-exposed remains, supplemented by entirely new work: geophysical prospection of still-unexcavated areas.
The results of the project (fieldwork 2005-2010, archival research continuing to 2017), are about to be published (James, in press). Key conclusions are that: the Roman base was even larger than thought; it grew large decades before the 210s when it was hitherto believed to have been established; it was home not just to soldiers but to a large ‘extended military community’ of servants and families; and the archaeological evidence indicates a policy of integration rather than separation between Dura’s military and civil communities.
This project was only possible because of the support and generosity of the Franco-Syrian mission to Dura (MFSED, fieldwork 1986-2011), and equally of the curatorial staff of YUAG; such institutional and personal factors are critical to the success of ‘legacy data’ projects. The devastation of Dura by industrial-scale looting during the Syrian civil war also underlines the importance of evidence from old excavations preserved in archives and museums.
James, in press, The Roman Military Base at Dura-Europos, Syria: An Archaeological Visualisation, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Digging in the archives – The 19th c. excavations of J. J. Schmid in Augusta Raurica
The Roman colony of Augusta Raurica in present-day north-western Switzerland has been of great interest for researchers since the 16th c. AD. An early discovery were the late antique and early medieval inhumation burials surrounding the castrum rauracense. The cemetery is best known for the excavations of the Landesmuseum Zurich, conducted by D. Viollier in 1907-1913 and published in 1976 and 1991 by M. Martin. Smaller parts of the cemetery have been excavated during the 20th c., most of them are unpublished or only published in preliminary reports.
However, the paper will focus on the excavations in the first half of the 19th c., when the cemetery was first discovered and examined by J. J. Schmid, the local owner of the paper mill. He kept the finds sorted by grave and had an artist draw them, as he was planning on publishing his results. Unfortunately, he died before he finished his work. His heirs sold the collection of finds and drawings to different institutions in Basel and Zurich.
The finds have been inventoried several times over the last 200 years. The original notes that came along with the finds have been lost and are only passed down in the notes of researchers from the 20th c., while the preserved notes and letters are written in old German handwriting.
Is it possible to reconstruct the about 150 graves with their grave goods? Is their re-evaluation worth the effort and are they going to help us with modern research analyses?
A pharos-headed pin from Richborough and its implications
The monument at the Roman port of Richborough (Rutupiae) in Kent takes the form of a rectangular block of masonry measuring 32.7 by 20.4 metres, with a raised cruciform remnant of paving on its upper surface. This structure was convincingly identified in the 1960s as the foundation for a monumental quadrifrons arch erected by Domitian to commemorate the conquest of Britannia and act as a symbolic entrance to the province.
This, however, may not be the full picture. The excavations at Richborough ran from 1922 to 1938 and produced large numbers of finds, only 7% of which were ever published. One of the unpublished items is a copper-alloy pin with its head in the form of a pharos, found embedded in the surface of a road put down at the same time as the quadrifrons arch was constructed.
The quadrifrons arch itself has a 10 metre deep foundation; far greater than would be needed to support such a structure. The Colosseum and Pantheon in Rome have 7.5 and 4.5 metre deep foundations respectively and it is calculated that the Richborough foundation could have supported a stepped pharos more than 50 metres in height.
Such a pharos can be compared with that at Ostia, of which mosaic representations in front of merchants’ offices around the Piazza of the Corporations in Ostia Antica show its lowest stage to have had a large central arch acting as a symbolic entrance to Rome.
The barracks of „Ostkastell IIIb” in Straubing/Sorviodurum (Bavaria) and new knowledge about the cohors I Flavia Canathenorum milliaria sagittariorum
The eastern fort III was located by the Danube river in Bavaria from about the middle of the second century AD until the middle of the third century AD. The deployed troop was cohors I Flavia Canathenorum milliaria sagittariorum, a partly mounted unit of bowmen.
The results of excavations undertaken in the year 1913 in the praetentura and near the northern porta decumana from 1976 to 1978 in combination with the magnetogram of the inner structures of the eastern fort of Sorviodurum lead to new conclusions about the barracks. This combination results in information about the special contubernia which were at both ends of the barracks and provided exclusive facilities for the officers of the cohors I Flavia Canathenorum milliaria sagittariorum. Only the combination of older excavation documentations and the magnetometer prospection from 2013 could lead to such results and shows that the analysis of old excavations pays off. Furthermore there are new results regarding the dating of Ostkastell III and about the deployment and structure of the cohors I Flavia Canathenorum. The magnetogram allows a distinction between the quarters of infantry and cavalry for certain. There are barrack buildings for ten centuriae and for six turmae. This is the most accurate archaeological information about the structure of a cohors equitata milliaria known to the present day and corresponds well with the written record by Hygin.
Demystifying the Roman fort at Gračine (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
The site of Gračine (Ljubuški, Bosnia and Herzegovina) has been known and studied since the 19th century, but so far remained poorly understood. Already Carl Patsch assumed that it was a Roman auxiliary fort, but the material evidence, slowly accumulating over the years due to chance finds was not fully convincing. The excavations in late 70s yielded material of undoubtedly military character, but the structures uncovered in the middle part of the site were not understood correctly – and the excavations were never fully published. The ambiguity of the evidence has even led some to stipulate that the site is of a different character, and the presence of a military unit should be looked for in other areas. This problem is of special importance because the military garrison in this region not only ensured the safety of the immediate surroundings, but also of the important city Narona, and the vital road leading to Salona, the capital of Roman Dalmatia – and is moreover intertwined with the discussion on the existence of a “Dalmatian limes”.
During the work of Ljubuški Archaeological Project, which is a Polish-Herzegovinian programme of non-invasive archaeological surveys, and realization of grant by the Polish National Science Centre (grant 2015/19/N/HS3/00886 awarded to Tomasz Dziurdzik from the University of Warsaw), it became possible to undertake geophysical research also on a part of the site Gračine. The results of the electrical resistance survey have revealed interesting anomalies in a distinct pattern, which were then verified in an excavation by the University of Mostar. The excavated part is a centurion’s house, together with parts of two streets on both sides of it. Thus the anomalies have been proved to be created by the remains of two barrack blocks, and the interpretation of the whole site as an auxiliary fort has finally been verified. This allows the discussion on the character of the site to lastly close, ending the long debate with the somewhat pessimist conclusion that the genius intuition of Carl Patsch was right from the very start, while most of the later research only obstructed the view due to its fragmentary nature and lack of proper understanding and publication.
Different methods, different terms: understanding old excavations
Present day archaeologists encounter relatively often the situation where the site that they are excavating has been investigated before them in one way or another by archaeologists in the past. Sometimes these predecessors have been investigating the site quite a long time ago, possibly 70, 100 years ago or even longer than that. It is thus only natural that the past researchers used quite different investigation methods (let us only think of some of the modern technologies for non-invasive investigations like the geo-magnetic ones or the GPR are just quite recent apparitions in the archaeological set of technologies). Even quite basic excavation and interpretation methods like stratigraphical digging or providing the scale and orientation in the archaeological drawing and photography were not a given – at least not everywhere in the world – say 100 years ago. Similar issues arise when it comes to written archaeological report in the past. From the terms used for describing the excavation technique to the ones for the uncovered archaeological features, the wording of some old reports can sometimes be puzzling or even misleading. The purpose of my paper is to examine the relation of a modern-day archaeologist to his predecessors, the scientific gains, but also the hurdles of this relation, based mainly on my own experience excavating a Roman fort on the southwestern frontier of Roman Dacia (modern place name Vărădia, nowadays Romania) where at least two predecessors have investigated, excavated and reported about, one of them over 100 years, the other one ca. 75 years ago.
Hidden treasures? What you ask is not always what you get
In this contribution a closer look at documentations lying asleep in the archive of Austria’s Federal Monuments Authority (Bundesdenkmalamt – short BDA) might bring interesting information to light. The BDA has been collecting documentation as it is required to by law since its establishment in 1850 and some of these informations have not been looked at for many years. What can we still learn from documentation done without modern technology or knowledge? Has it been so bad as some might think or is it just a matter of asking the right questions to find hidden treasures in our archives? Can old documentations provide us with valuable information on how to preserve monuments? Where and how where conservations done before and do documentations of those interventions even exist? Some examples of the Austrian archives might show quite unexpected results.
Niederbieber and early 19th-century research at the Upper-German Limes
Hans Jost Mergen
The Roman fort of Niederbieber (Distr. Neuwied, Rhineland-Palatinate) is one of Germanys most important dated sites in Roman Archaeology (AD 185/194–259/260). The first excavations were carried out in 1791 by Christian Friedrich Hoffmann (1762–1820). Within almost 30 years he discovered the bathhouse, the praetorium, the principia, parts of the stonewall with its characteristic turrets and various other structures. Spectacular and partly unique finds like the almost complete signum were displayed in the former princely Wiedian collection in the palace of Neuwied. Hoffmann also discovered the northernmost part of the Upper-German Limes. In 1826/27 many of the results were published by the Prussian diplomat Wilhelm Dorow (1790–1845). Extensive excavations (Reichs-Limeskommission [RLK] 1897–1912) and few publications followed. However, the current state of research is still insufficient considering the significance of the fort.
My dissertation project presents a full analysis of the original sources of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. More than 1500 handwritten notes, letters, manuscripts, sketches, maps and drawings show Hoffmann’s self-taught methods of archaeological research during the very difficult times in the aftermath of the French Revolution. The documents reveal many unknown details of building structures. In addition, several finds can be relocated to their original site of discovery. The letters shed light on Hoffmann’s attempt to establish a scientific network of people sharing his enthusiasm for archaeology or – as it was called in those times – Alterthumskunde. A complete inventory of the former “princely Wiedian collection of antiquities” with many unpublished objects is also presented. The results of the study lay the foundation for further in-depth research on the younger excavations and are essential for a complete re-evaluation of this important Roman site.
Archaeological remains along the Danubian Limes: through centuries of travelers to a new instrument for intercultural dialogue
Nora Lombardini, Elena Fioretto
During the centuries, several campaigns of excavation have been conducted along the Danubian Limes.
Even if, on one hand, it is possible to investigate about the archaeological research carried on, during the centuries, on those remains, in the other hand it can be (interesting to) (considered as an interesting research to) investigate about those travelers that, starting from the XVIII century, took a trip along these borders.
The reasons why those travels took place during the years were different, in different period of time.
Briefly, there is the necessity to mention those travels that have been taken for a pleasure reason, with an ancient curiosity for an “exotic” world.
Then there are the travels, mostly undertaken by architects, in that period of time when travelling was considered part of the architect’s education process, as important as studying in the most famous college of European countries.
Moreover, there are those kind of travels, mostly undertook during the XX century, that were brought on by a “political” reason.
About this last case, it can be interesting to underline that in Italy, during the fascist era, all that archeological remains that were expression of the roman age were considered as important symbols of the origin of the Italian culture, where the fascist regime had the intent to have its roots.
The aim of this paper is to investigate about those travels through important documents, as the old books of novels, drawings and photos. The main purpose is to understand the reasons why of these travels in a relation with different methodological approaches.
Indeed, from a modern point of view, they can be considered as a disclosing creation of a sort of network among valuable sites.
The actual value of this paper lies in the necessity to understand how it is possible, nowadays, to find a new interpretation of these archaeological remains no more seen only site by site, but in a precious system of places, where Cultural Heritage and its valorization can be considered as an instrument of intercultural dialogue.
Revisiting Richborough: A reassessment of the excavations of J.P. Bushe-Fox (1922-1938)
Often referenced, rarely researched, the excavation material for Richborough has sat in various archives since the last volume was produced in 1968. Even at this stage first-hand knowledge of the site was disappearing and only the field notes could be used to produce Richborough V. Since then the site has been researched a few studies, particularly on the objects, and towards wider syntheses on the shore forts in Britain. However, this has most often been done from the published volumes, rather than the archive.
In 2016, an English Heritage project to redisplay the site enabled a PhD study of the military objects and tools. It soon became clear that to understand the site a new methodology was needed to revaluate the conclusions of Bushe-Fox. With up to date methods a better understand of the site can now be achieved. Previously unpublished material, a new object catalogue, digitally redrawn maps and plans, and a reassessment of the stratigraphy is gradually eliminating some of the old topoi of Richborough.
In generaly the conclusions of Bushe-Fox were fairly accurate, and for the time the methods were first rate. With nearly 100 years of hindsight new stories are emerging. Some of the key questions the archive can help answer are:
• What was the function of the structures identified by the excavations?
• What was the character of occupation of the settlement while the quadrifrons was constructed?
• Why did the port town begin to fail?
• Was there any Severan occupation on the site?
• If not, why was the site abandoned from c.AD200-260?
• Who built the shore forts?
• What happened to the east wall?
• What was the character of occupation during the 4th century?
• How did Richborough end?
Many of these questions are being answered and it is clear that we do not know as much as we would like about Richborough. It is worth undertaking the take of revisiting the archives as much of the shore fort story is based around our knowledge of Richborough. It was the most extensively excavated of the British shore forts, and with little good stratigraphy left to investigate the archive of Bushe-Fox needs careful reconsideration.
Bridge over troubled water: The roman bridge in Cologne between old research and new questions
The roman bridge across the Rhine between the Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (Köln/Cologne) and the late roman fortress of Divitia (Deutz) stands out among others because of the irregular distances between its pillars. New research in the course of the nomination process of the Lower German Limes as a UNESCO world heritage site showed that the archaeological data is in parts unclear, contradictory and/or unpublished and therefore leaves open a lot of questions. For example, the published plan originates from the late 19th century and has been copied ever since without being much scrutinized. Another problem seems to be that the dendrochronological results obtained from the timber foundations of the pillars are not corresponding with the favoured founding date of the Deutz fortress – which was the reason for the construction of the bridge.
The paper tries to evaluate the reliability of the available sources, to give a new status quo of the remains and to name options for new research.