Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gabii Project at the AIA meetings in San Antonio, Texas

Nicola Terrenato will present a paper on the 2009 and 2010 seasons of the Gabii Project at the upcoming meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America to be held in San Antonio, Texas, in January 2011. Presently Terrenato's paper is scheduled to appear in Session 6B "Recent fieldwork in Roman Italy" on Saturday, January 8, 2011, from 2:45 until 5:15 PM.  The conference takes place in the San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter Hotel.

"The Gabii Project: Excavations 2009-2010." 
Nicola Terrenato (University of Michigan), Jeffrey A. Becker (Brown University), Anna Gallone (Gabii Project), Marcello Mogetta (University of Michigan), and Rachel Opitz (CNRS, Besançon).

So, as you 'remember the Alamo', think of Gabii, too, and we'll hope to see you in Texas!

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German TV coverage of lead sarcophagus testing

As has been reported previously, the lead sarcophagus (the famous 'burrito') excavated at Gabii in 2009 has been undergoing focused neutron tomography tests in Munich, Germany.  Under the close supervision of field director Anna Gallone and colleagues from the Forschungsneutronenquelle Heinz Maier-Leibnitz (FRM II), the sarcophagus has gone through a variety of tests.  The online video clip, from German television, offers a first look at this process.

The Mystery of the Lead Coffin
Munich neutron researchers study mummy

Tense expectation at the arrival of an archaeological sensation. Carefully packed in this crate is a 2m long coffin, roughly 1,700 years old, found in excavations near Rome. Who is inside, nobody yet knows, for the coffin has not yet been opened. At the TU (Technische Universität) in Munich, the mysterious find is to be examined. He will lead the examination. Burkhard Schillinger is a “neutron scientist” and has been preparing for weeks. He wants to bombard the coffin with neutrons, so to produce an image of the coffin`s contents, without opening it. (Schillinger) “We are very eager to find out if we will be able to see anything, for we ourselves do not yet know if it will work. We are at the limit of what is physically feasible with this analysis, and we are very excited.”

Can the Bavarian researchers solve the mystery of the Roman lead coffin? In this tomograph, the first measurements will be undertaken. The crate is handled like a “raw egg”, for any kind of shaking could damage the contents. To ensure that everything goes according to plan, the archaeologist  Anna Gallone has traveled especially from Italy. She, along with an international team, discovered the coffin. And this is what it looks like. It weighs about 350kg, and has a distinct form. The coffin comprises thick walls of lead that were folded together over the corpse. An extremely lavish procedure for this period. (Anna) “It was definitely someone that was very rich because of the quantity of lead that was used for the coffin. The way in which was produced was very expensive. It must have been someone of high status, but exactly what position the person is hard to tell at this stage.”

The only certainty is that the person was buried here, in the historical town of Gabii, 18km east of Rome, today an excavated field. Archaeologists have found more than 20 graves here. Anna Gallone (The Gabii Project's field director) has also investigated some of them, but the lead coffin is the only one of its kind. The graves were situated on a tufo-plateau, and were subject to rain and sun for centuries. Amazingly, despite these adverse conditions, the bones have survived well. From them, the archaeologists can roughly establish the age of the coffin - the 3rd century AD. But who could afford such a burial? Back in Munich. Burkhard Schillinger prepares the main test. For this, one of the most advanced neutron sources in Europe is available. To get a good picture, the coffin must be placed directly in front of the source. Because neutrons possess no charge, like miniscule probes, they can be used to research the quality of metals without disturbing them, a method so good for the analysis of the coffin, it is as if it was designed for it. But there is a problem, for there are several points where the coffin is not sealed, and through these holes earth has found its way inside. Could this disturb the analysis? (Schillinger) “Earth, especially when it is wet, is an enormous obstacle for the neutrons. The lead that you see here is easy for us to get through, but since neutrons are sensitive to light elements, then they are naturally also sensitive to soil, and we have grave doubts whether it will work.”

It starts! During the analysis the scientists have to leave the room due to the strong radiation. What happens now behind these steel doors can be imagined in this way: the neutrons penetrate the interior of the coffin. Some will be diverted, or absorbed. The rest will pass through the coffin and hit a luminous screen covered with a layer of lithium. The lithium atoms burst and light up the screen. A sensitive camera records the light and saves it as a photo. But in practise it does not always work. Also this time. On the monitor, the first image appears. As feared, the soil diverted the neutrons too strongly. The layer of lead can been seen clearly, but beneath everything is black. Burkhard Schillinger and the archaeologists start once again, this time with stronger neutrons. They are specifically interested in recognisable grave goods, clues to the status of the person. And really, the image on the screen allows the recognition of the first details. (Anna) “There is actually the possibility that what we are looking at is the skeleton. What I find particularly noteworthy is this area. This here is possibly the pelvis. And beneath, this long shape, might actually be the backbone.” Grave goods, by the way, are not recognisable. To find out more, the coffin will be opened in the next few weeks at Rome. Until then, the archaeologists can only speculate. (Anna) “Well I mean the problem of interpreting this coffin, is that there is no comparable find in Italy or the Roman Empire. For this reason it is possible that person was a foreigner, from northern Europe or from the eastern provinces.” The neutron analysis was able to deliver the first clues. The coffin contains human remains. These will have to be examined in greater detail at Rome.

Translated from the German by Jamie Sewell
13 November 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

Gabii Project 2011 field program - now accepting applications

The 2011 excavation season is closer than it might seem and the Gabii Project is now accepting applications from students and volunteers for the 2011 field program via its website.  The 2011 season will mark the fifth year of fieldwork at Gabii and we are excited to again bring students into the field and put them in contact with cutting edge methods and techniques in field archaeology. 

The program will run from June 19 until July 30, 2011.  Applications will be accepted online via the project's website (click on the '2011 application form' at left). The deadline for applying to the program is February 28, 2011; all qualified students are eligible to apply, not just those associated with the University of Michigan. Notifications of acceptance will be made by March 15, 2011, and accepted volunteers must submit their payment in full by April 1, 2011, in order to secure their spot.  The cost for the 6-week program, inclusive of room and board, insurance, equipment, and local transportation, will be $4,600 (USD) in 2011.  It is not possible to receive academic credit for participation in the field program.  The information below outlines some of the basic details of the field program; more complete information can be found on the project website. To apply: please complete the application form linked through the toolbar at the left and submit electronically. Please complete all fields.  Then, please be sure to ask two professional recommenders (who know you either from an academic setting or a prior fieldwork experience) to send letters on your behalf to Prof. Jeffrey Becker ( - replace at with @) by February 28, 2011.
  • Accommodation:
    • The Hotel Villa Mercede in Frascati, Italy, will serve as the Gabii Project's base of operations again in 2011.  The team will be accommodated there and will take their meals during the week at the Balubino restaurant.
    • Volunteers will be accommodated in shared rooms (2 to 4 people per room) with a private bathroom.
    • Convenient local train service links Frascati to downtown Rome and regional buses provide other transportation options.
  • Work on-site:
    • Volunteers will work on site 7:30 am to 4:30 pm Monday through Friday.  Applicants should note that this is a labor intensive program and be aware that working long hours in the hot sun is to be expected.  Average daytime temperatures will be in the range of above 90˚ F.
    • Applicants must be in good health, have passed a recent physical examination, and provide up-to-date records of current inoculations.
    • Volunteers will work in small teams supervised by experienced excavators.  Additionally, the field program will expose participants to all facets of fieldwork, including working with ceramics and other archaeological materials, environmental sampling, flotation, topography, conservation, and documentation.
    • Regular site tours (usually once every 7 to 10 days) will help keep all team members up to speed on the progress of excavation work in the various areas of the site.
  • Instruction:
    • The above-mentioned rotation on-site will be accompanied by various instructional opportunities from 'hands on' instruction in excavation techniques to small group instruction on archaeological materials and topography.
    • The 2011 field program will include a lecture series (averaging 1 lecture per week) on topics related to the methodology field archaeology and to the archaeology of Central Italy.
    • Several optional weekend outings will be arranged where guided tours will be offered.  In 2010 weekend trips included the Forum Romanum and Palatine Hill as well as Ostia Antica.
  • Atmosphere and Experience:
    • The Gabii Project is a large team (50+ people) effort.  Teamwork is the key to our success, but the working conditions can be intense.  The successful applicant will be ready to work as part of a large team and welcome the opportunity to work and learn cooperatively.
    • The combined experience of the Gabii Project’s multi-national staff offers volunteers the opportunities to learn and practice some of the latest and most cutting edge techniques of field archaeology.  Additionally, an excellent staff to student ratio guarantees close instruction in field methodology. 

    • n.b. Students accepted to the field program are encouraged to seek funding sources to support their participation as the Gabii Project does not offer need-based financial support. 

For more information, please contact Prof. Jeffrey Becker  ( - replace at with @).

Friday, September 17, 2010

Gabii Project presentation at Brown University

On Thursday, September 23, 2010, at 12:00 PM Jeffrey Becker and Jessica Nowlin will offer an informal presentation on elite infant tombs excavated at Gabii in 2009.  The talk will be part of the Brown Bag Series in Archaeology organized by the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World.

The details: Jeffrey Becker and Jessica Nowlin (Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology, Brown University)
Orientalizing Infant Tombs at Gabii: Discovery, Documentation, and Interpretation
Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology, Rhode Island Hall, Room 108.  The event is open to the public.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Weeks III and IV at Gabii

The last two weeks have flown by us, scarcely leaving time to make a post on the blog!  We are in the midst of a heat wave here in Italy, but you would be hard pressed to tell considering how hard our team is working - they are undaunted by the heat.  The last two weeks have been exciting and quite busy.  We were fortunate to have Mario Torelli (Perugia) visit us on Friday, July 10 and it was great fun to show him around the site and benefit from his insights.  This week our colleagues from the Archaeological Prospection Services of Southampton visited us to check various magnetic anomalies discovered during the 2007-2008 survey phase; we were also lucky to have several sets of parents and relatives of team members visit us, so Gabii has been a busy place.  But for the most part, we have been digging - and doing a lot of it!  Our Area B has finally emerged from the overburden of Roman tombs and occupation evidence is finally appearing.  Elsewhere on the site we continue to analyze various bits of evidence, including an in-depth examination of animal bones and the ongoing collection of environmental samples.  In all, we are extremely please with the progress we are making and look forward to the week coming up.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Gabii Project 2010 - reflections on the first week

The first week of 2010 fieldwork at Gabii has flown by -- and in such a quick fashion that week two is half over and we are just now composing this update! In all, the first week on-site was fantastic - the weather was good (cooler than average) and the progress in terms of work was excellent (certainly above average!). We are pleased both to see a lot of new faces on this year's team, but also to welcome back numerous familiar faces; old and new team members are bonding well together and are giving work on-site a great atmosphere.

The first day dawned a bit cool, and was sprinkled with spots of drizzle. This did not stop us from bringing everyone to the site, signing out equipment, and taking tours of our own work site and the larger area of ancient Gabii. Students saw both the temple of Iuno and the excavated area that belongs to the Soprintendenza in Rome. Inside our own area we recapped the 2009 field season by exploring the various features brought to light and also observing various new features exposed by natural erosion and also our enlargement of the excavation area. We discussed with the team this year's excavation strategy and the key points we hope to address. These include further investigation of the road system identified by geophysical survey in 2007 and 2008 and further work on architectural remains on our Area B and Area C, wherein we see Imperial phases and their post-abandonment layers and for which we hope to construct a broader narrative in terms of phases of use (and disuse).

As the week progressed, the weather warmed up decently, but was pleasant. Italy's wet spring has produced a bumper crop of wildflowers and it almost seems a shame to weed them out of the excavation area. We all spent a good deal of time this first week cleaning the site and beginning to understand the newly expanded areas A and C. This cleaning, though a bit tedious, is a great opportunity for the team to begin to gel and already signs point toward a great and productive season with a great group.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Pre-season preparations for the 2010 season

This week has been a busy one on the ground here in Italy as preparations for the 2010 excavation campaign are in full swing. The list of chores is long - from purchasing supplies, reorganizing the logistics area, cleaning - but each task completed brings us closer to the beginning of what promises to be an exciting season in the field. During the last few days we have been expanding the limits of two of our excavation areas with the careful help of a mechanical digger and a dump truck. By scraping away some topsoil the directors are able to verify the subsurface situation in terms of preserved archaeology and, thus far, the indications of some interesting new features are beginning to emerge. We are looking forward to the arrival of the field staff on 13 June - just more than one week from today!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Gabii at "Archaeological Survey and the City"

The upcoming Laurence seminar organized by Prof. Martin Millett and the Faculty of Classics at the University of Cambridge will feature two talks related to the work of the Gabii Project. The seminar, under the title "Archaeological survey and the city", brings together panels of archaeologists involved in archaeological survey in the ancient Mediterranean. The seminar runs from May 24th through the 27th 2010.

Both of the Gabii related papers will be offered on May 25th.
  • Nicola Terrenato. "Survey and the Orthogonal city. At the intersection of scholarly traditions".
  • Steven Kay (BSR/APSS). "Geophysical survey of the city of Gabii, Italy".

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Fiat/Chrysler Scholars at Gabii

The Gabii Project is pleased to announce the creation of the "Fiat/Chrysler Scholars" program to support the participation of University of Michigan students in the fieldwork at Gabii. These "Fiat/Chrysler Scholars" will have the opportunity to participate firsthand in the exciting fieldwork at Gabii and take part in cutting-edge archaeological research. We are grateful to the Chrysler Foundation and Fiat SPA, who have each made a gift of $25,000 to The College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) at the University of Michigan. The directors of the Gabii Project have selected the first group of "Fiat/Chrysler Scholars" and we look forward to updating you on their experiences at Gabii in 2010.

The 2010 Fiat/Chrysler Scholars from the University of Michigan are:
  • Lauren Bennett (majoring in Latin)
  • Bailey Benson (majoring in Anthropology and Classical archaeology)
  • Ivan Cangemi (PhD student in Classical art and archaeology)
  • Jason Farr (PhD student in Classical art and archaeology)
  • Cynthia Kazanis (majoring in Anthropology and Classical archaeology)
  • Melissa King (majoring in Communication Studies and History of art)
  • Samantha Lash (majoring in Classical archaeology)
  • Michael Pry (undeclared)
  • Camille Reynolds (majoring in Classical civilization)
  • Jessica Ryan (majoring in Classical archaeology and Classical civilization)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Gabii Project in Lazio e Sabina VI (2010)

The Gabii Project's article in Lazio e Sabina VI, edited by G. Ghini, (2010) appeared today from Edizioni Quasar.

N. Terrenato, A. Gallone, J. A. Becker, and S. Kay. 2010. “Urbanistica Ortogonale a Gabii: Risultati delle nuove prospezioni geofisiche e prospettive per il futuro.” In Lazio e Sabina VI: Atti del Convegno. Sesto Incontro di Studi sul Lazio e la Sabina. Roma 4-6 marzo 2009, edited by G. Ghini, 237-48. Rome: Edizioni Quasar.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In the news: Lead sarcophagus from Gabii

As has now been released to the press, an unusual Imperial Roman lead sarcophagus was excavated at Gabii in 2009 by the Gabii Project. This new story originated with a small feature by National Geographic News, along with a news release from the News Service of the University of Michigan. A sampling of the resulting press coverage can be found digested and linked here on our blog.

The sarcophagus, which weighs around 1000 lbs, is fashioned from sheets of lead folded so as to encase the deceased, thus the 'burrito' moniker that accompanied the news story and has become something of a popular tag on Twitter and other sites. The unusual nature of the sarcophagus comes from the fact that it does not follow the normal pattern for these objects - and indeed, only several hundred imperial lead sarcophagi are known. The sarcophagus in question here was formed by wrapping sheets of lead around the deceased, crimping the 'head' end and leaving the 'foot' end open and exposed. So, while the corpus of square lead sarcophagi with lids and lead sarcophagi liners is reasonably well defined, the lead-wrapped inhumant remains unusual. We are grateful for the offers of advice and help that are coming in from colleagues from all corners - thank you!
The next phase of study of the sarcophagus will begin shortly with non-invasive tests employed to ascertain something about the contents that are currently shielded by the lead wrapping, which in itself has important value as an artifact. The sarcophagus is heading for the American Academy in Rome in the next days where Mellon Professor T. Corey Brennan has been invaluable and incredibly supportive in facilitating this next phase of research. Prof. Brennan's blog entry is here.
This sarcophagus - about which we are still learning - prompts us to consider events at the far end of Gabii's life as an urban center and also raises interesting possibilities about studying a well-preserved (albeit unusual) status burial in Imperial Latium. While those in the blogosphere are hoping that we find a dangerous vampire, mummy or ancient demon inside, we're betting on a regular Roman, most likely of an elevated social rank.
The research at Gabii is supported by the University of Michigan and its Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, as well as by organizations that include the National Geographic Society. The kind support of the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma and, in particular, Dr. Angelo Bottini and Dr. Stefano Musco, is also gratefully acknowledged. We are also grateful to our friends at LAND srl who so carefully prepared the sarcophagus for removal from the tomb and transported it to safe storage.
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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Gabii Project at '7° Incontro di Studi sul Lazio e la Sabina'

The seventh Lazio e Sabina conference will take place at various academic venues in Rome from March 9th through March 11th 2010 and the Gabii Project will again be represented among the presentations. Field director Dott.ssa Anna Gallone will present a paper on March 10th entitled, "Gli scavi dell'University of Michigan a Gabii." The paper, co-authored with project director Nicola Terrenato and vice field director Marcello Mogetta will be part of the morning session, beginning at 09:30 am, at the American Academy in Rome.

The full conference program can be found here.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Two upcoming Gabii Project talks in Canada

Project directors Nicola Terrenato and Jeffrey Becker will present interim lectures on the work of the Gabii Project in the next two weeks.

- On March 3, 2010, at 2:30 PM, Nicola Terrenato will present a talk entitled, "The Gabii Project: a new excavation in a major Latin city" in the Department of Classics at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. The lecture will be in Watson 517 and is open to the public.

- On March 11, 2010, at 4:30 PM, Jeffrey Becker will present a talk entitled, "The Gabii Project, 2007-2010: preliminary conclusions and future perspectives" in the Department of Classics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. The lecture will be held in Togo Salmon Hall 701.